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Indonesia presidential candidates talk corruption, Papua in first debate

JAKARTA (AFP)The three candidates vying to be Indonesia’s next president clashed in their first debate on Tuesday over issues including corruption, human rights, and separatist rebels in the world’s third-largest democracy.

The February 14 election will see defence minister and former special forces general Prabowo Subianto contest former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan to lead the Muslim-majority archipelago nation.

They went head-to-head in a debate broadcast across Indonesian television screens as they bid to succeed President Joko Widodo in a vote where nearly 205 million people are eligible to cast their ballot.

Indonesia’s Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto (C) along with two other presidential candidates former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan (R) and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, speaks during the first presidential election debate at the General Elections Commission (KPU) office in Jakarta on December 12, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

Activists had called for candidates to address corruption, with half a dozen ministers in Widodo’s cabinet linked to alleged graft since he took office in 2014.

“We will fix what needs to be fixed. We will uphold what needs to be upheld. And we’re determined to eradicate corruption until its roots,” said frontrunner Subianto.

His main rival Pranowo said leaders should be hired on merit, a call just months after Subianto’s running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Widodo’s 36-year-old son, was permitted to run despite his age after a court ruling issued by the president’s brother-in-law.

“For officials… let them grow with good meritocracy,” he said.

On the restive eastern region of Papua where separatists have fought a decades-long insurgency, Subianto accused foreign powers of meddling and said he would continue Widodo’s policies.

“We see foreign interference there,” he said.

“My plan is to uphold the law, strengthen apparatuses there and accelerate economic development.”

Baswedan countered that the “main problem is the lack of justice” in the breakaway region where Indonesian forces are battling guerrillas.

“The goal is not to merely eliminate violence, because peace is not absence of violence. Peace is the presence of justice,” he said.

Pranowo asked defence chief Subianto about alleged abuses while he was in the military in the late 1990s, including ordering the kidnapping of democracy activists.

Presidential candidate and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo (C) and presidential candidate and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan (R) greet each other as they arrive to attend the first presidential election debate at the General Elections Commission (KPU) office in Jakarta on December 12, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

“I already answered multiple times. I feel that I’m really hard to defend human rights. So… don’t politicise that,” said Subianto.

There will be four more debates before election day.

Subianto has opened up a wide lead over his rivals after choosing Raka, according to recent polls.

An independent poll published on December 10 showed 45.6 per cent of Indonesians would choose Subianto and Raka, up from 35.9 per cent in October.

Pranowo has slid from 26.1 per cent in October to 23.8 per cent while Baswedan rose to 22.3 per cent from 19.6 per cent.

The next president will be sworn in October 2024, the elections commission said.

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