Indonesia presidential candidates spar over corruption scandals in final debate

JAKARTA Sat Jul 5, 2014 3:53pm EDT

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (R) and Hatta Rajasa walks during a televised debate with his opponent Joko ''Jokowi'' Widodo and Yusuf Kalla (not pictured) in Jakarta July 5, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (R) and Hatta Rajasa walks during a televised debate with his opponent Joko ''Jokowi'' Widodo and Yusuf Kalla (not pictured) in Jakarta July 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Beawiharta

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Four days before Indonesia's presidential election, the two candidates and their running mates traded barbs over food security and graft in their final television debate on Saturday.

Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and former general Prabowo Subianto are running neck-in-neck to be the new leader of the world's third-largest democracy.

The debate was the last day to get their message across to voters before the elections body imposed a so-called quiet period leading up to the July 9 poll.

Food, energy, and the environment were the topics under discussion in the debate, and both presidential candidates looked to win over undecided voters, which one survey estimated at around 20 percent.

The typically cordial debate got heated when Jokowi's running mate Jusuf Kalla repeatedly raised the topic of corruption scandals involving key supporters of Prabowo.

"I'm not saying there are no thieves in my party ... but what I meant was (corruption) is a phenomenon in our country," Prabowo said in reference to a speech made at a campaign rally earlier in the week.

In recent years, Indonesia has seen a number of food corruption scandals over import quotas that caused shortages and price spikes for foods such as beef and garlic.

The religious affairs minister, who is a key supporter of Prabowo, was forced to resign in May after being implicated in a graft case involving funds allocated for the haj pilgrimage.

"The point was raised repeatedly by the Jokowi-JK team and that made them come out looking tougher than in previous debates," said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based analyst for Reformasi Weekly. "If you're undecided and you're watching, you can come away feeling confident that they're tough enough to run the country."

GREEN DAY

Home to the world's third-largest expanse of tropical forests, Indonesia is a key player in the battle against climate change and faces international pressure to halt deforestation.

The country has surpassed Brazil in clearing tropical forests and losses are accelerating despite a 2011 moratorium meant to protect wildlife and combat climate change.

"We have to find a balance between economic interests, public interests and protecting the environment," said Jokowi, who seemed more at ease than in previous debates.

"Our forests are being destroyed, our beaches are being destroyed because we have pursued economic growth too aggressively and not paid attention to the environment."

Prabowo called for greater monitoring using satellites and heavier sanctions for companies that violate forestry laws.

Both sides in the debate spoke in favor of a reducing food imports and pledged to increase the amount of farm land to improve food self sufficiency -- especially for staple rice.

"By using  better fertilizer on existing land we can raise productivity by 40 percent ... We will add 2 million hectares of new rice fields in Indonesia," said Prabowo, whose running mate is former chief economic minister Hatta Rajasa.

The politically sensitive issue of fuel subsidies, which cost the government around $20 billion a year and have put pressure on the current account deficit, was avoided by both sides during the debate.

With around 190 million people eligible to vote in next week's poll, the winner will lead the world's fourth-most populous nation, which has more Muslims than any other country.

Jokowi, who at one point enjoyed a 30 point lead over his rival but has narrowed in recent weeks to single digits, has been the target of a campaign questioning his religion and ethnicity.

Jokowi is set to go on a minor pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia during the quiet period ahead of the vote, his campaign manager told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Eveline Danubrata, Nilufar Rizki and Chris Nusatya; Editing by Randy Fabi)

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Comments (1)
The last election? Indonesian youth — the majority — is not as pro-Western as people. Dig deeper and you will find that many Indonesian young people, although looking and acting Westernized, at important times return to Muslim attire and religious custom. As well, when comparing, say Obama versus bin Laden, many of them see the American president and the United States as a threat to the moderate principles of their faith and values compared to what the other guy, now dead, was promoting, even though they opposed the violent extremism Osama thought was the necessary road to independence from the control imposed by global financial interests and American and Nato military dominance, soon to include the growing Japanese and Chinese militaries.
Perhaps it is time to the examine and study the social media messages and posts by Indonesian young people — those under age 30 — to discover just how wrong it is, and ask what type of Muslim democracy, compared to the American and British versions, might be a very useful alternative.
Meanwhile and unfortunately, there was no mention of the critical importance of the Indonesian environment which is burning away faster than the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and how this will wreck whatever future the region has.
As for Jokowi winning the election, he and his millions of supporters may, after a brief period as government, find themselves as tortured and/or as dead as democratic President Sukarno and his followers did several decades ago at the hands of Suharto types whose actions were supported by the West, especially the United States.

Jul 06, 2014 4:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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