Indonesian VP candidates hold their fire a month before election

  • Biting remarks and heated exchanges were noticeably absent during the sole debate on 17 Mar 19 between Indonesia’s two vice presidential candidates ahead of the presidential election.
  • Senior Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, who was heavily criticized for barely speaking during a Jan 19 debate that featured running mate and President Joko Widodo, surpassed expectations somewhat as he coherently presented the ticket’s platforms on education, employment and other matters.
  • But he stopped short of scrutinizing or criticizing his rival’s platforms, settling instead for reading from notes on a number of occasions. Observers said direct attacks could do damage to Ma’ruf’s reputation as a cleric.
  • Meanwhile, 49-year-old businessman Sandiaga Uno refrained from attacking the leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council, a gambit likely aimed at not alienating conservative Muslim voters that he and opposition leader Prabowo Subianto have courted heavily.
  • Sandiaga, though, took a jab at Ma’ruf’s old age at the beginning of the televised debate, congratulating the cleric on recently turning 76 – and contrasting that with his youthful persona, inserting the fact that he exercises regularly during a bit on promoting good health.
  • Sandiaga, who initially was expected to beat Ma’ruf easily with his smooth talking and good looks, appeared to fail to make the most out of the debate. Instead, he was stuck repeating the same old mantras he and Subianto have repeated on many previous occasions — such as a program for creating jobs and restricting the number of foreign workers, a group the opposition alleges is invading Indonesia and stealing locals’ jobs.
  • When asked how he and Subianto will address the chronic budget deficits in the government’s universal health care program, BPJS, Sandiaga said, “We are committed to finding the roots of the problems in BPJS within the first 200 days in power.” He mentioned this three times during the two-hour debate, but offered no practical solution.
  • Ma’ruf, meanwhile, mostly just defended the Widodo administration’s ongoing programs – saying improvements to implementing the health care program will continue while also saying that the number of foreign workers will remain under control.
  • He said the government will roll out new benefits to help college students pay tuition and offer unemployment benefits, adding to a series of safety net programs Widodo has introduced during his presidency, a clear attempt to win favor with voters.
  • Ma’ruf used the occasion to underscore his Muslim credentials, citing some Islamic and Arabic references while presenting his education and health care platforms.
  • Ma’ruf came alive when responding to a question on developing and promoting Indonesian culture, speaking animatedly about hopes to raise the country’s profile in the global cultural scene.
  • “We will hold big international festivals… We will build an Opera (House) like the one in Sydney to showcase our culture,” he said.
  • Stunting – a perennial problem in Indonesia – also got an airing, as Mr Sandiaga, citing his own wife’s struggle to feed their youngest child, who she had at the age of 42, spoke about his camp’s plan to get people to donate items such as milk.
  • Widodo’s choice of Ma’ruf as running mate was widely seen as an attempt to shield the president from his opponents’ relentless attacks on his Muslim identity — which almost cost him the presidency in his first matchup with Subianto in 2014.
  • Nevertheless, many observers have noted that the debates in general — let alone the one on 17 Mar 19 between the VP hopefuls — are unlikely to sway voters whose minds are already made up.

External Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesia-election-jokowis-running-mate-maruf-holds-his-own-in-vice-presidential-debate

External Link: https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Indonesia-election/Indonesian-VP-candidates-hold-their-fire-a-month-before-election

18-Mar-2019


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