Indonesia: Presidential Debate Lacking in Substance

Updated On: Jun 22, 2009

The first televised debate between the presidential candidates last Thursday in the run up to Indonesia’s presidential elections on July 8 was a disappointing moment for audiences and pundits alike, as the 3 candidates failed to engage in significant debate about the substantive issues that face Indonesia, the caliber of the candidates or the substance of their electoral platforms.

Instead, the debate became ‘a practice in politeness’ between the presidential candidates - Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jusuf Kalla and Megawati Sukarnoputri. Billed as an opportunity for voters to discover where each candidate stands on electoral issues including human rights and clean governance, the candidates instead spent two and half hours agreeing with each other, offering broad platitudes and little specifics.

When asked by moderator Anies Baswedan, a prominent political scientist and head of Paramadina University, to explain their campaign slogans, the three engaged in prolonged mutual congratulations. Ms Megawati's "pro-rakyat" slogan gave Dr Yudhoyono a chance to declare he supported his former boss "200 per cent".

The outcome of the first debate is likely to play in Yudhoyono’s favour, who currently leads the other presidential candidates in the polls, and whose party won the general elections that just passed with a wide margin. If the other presidential candidates and their running partners fail to use the following televised debates to distinguish their electoral platforms, Yudhoyono’s current popularity will be undiminished.

Yudhoyono himself expressed satisfaction on day with the results of the inaugural presidential candidate debate broadcast live Thursday night, despite widespread criticism from local and international papers, including The Jakarta Post, that panned the debate as ‘inane, dull and lacked substance’.

"Last night - maybe some of you watched it - the debate ran well, thank God," he said at the Presidential Palace.

Meanwhile, dissatisfied with their first appearances, Megawati and Jusuf Kalla challenged their rival, incumbent President Yudhoyono, for more lively debates in the remaining sessions.

The Jusuf Kalla (JK)-Wiranto campaign team said Thursday's televised public debate had shown Kalla's weaknesses. Mahendradatta, a member of the Megawati-Prabowo campaign team, similarly argued that Megawati was better than her Thursday appearance, and that she would be better off if candidates were given a chance to debate.

In response to the criticisms, the General Elections Commission (KPU) says it will not likely change the format of the debates to prevent candidates from trading attacks on substance and personality.

“We’ve received criticisms about the debate being boring and having too many pauses, but the debate's format will not likely change,” KPU chief Abdul Hafiz Anshary said.


The Australian, Candidates run dead in Indonesia presidential debate, 20 June 2009, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25661574-2703,00.html

Forbes,  Q+A-Governance, rights are Indonesia election issues, 18 June 2009, http://www.forbes.com/feeds/afx/2009/06/18/afx6558523.html

Global Post, Let's not fight. We're Indonesians, after all, 20 June 2009, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/indonesia/090619/lets-not-fight-were-...

The Jakarta Post, Yudhoyono satisfied with `polite' debate, 20 June 2009, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/06/20/yudhoyono-satisfied-with-p...

The Jakarta Post, Megawati, Kalla motion for more lively debates, 22 June 2009, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/06/20/megawati-kalla-motion-more...

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