Joko Widodo asks corruption questions in final Indonesian presidential debate

Jakarta: The one-time front-runner in the Indonesian presidency race, Joko Widodo, waited until the dying minutes of the campaign to pose tough questions about corruption to his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, who looked shaken by the attention.

Mr Joko, who last month started the series of five debates looking tentative, scored a clear win with a confident performance on Saturday night, the final event before campaigning officially ended at midnight.

But it was unclear if it would be enough to arrest a steep decline in his popularity over the three-month marathon leading up to Wednesday's election.

Mr Joko’s running mate, Jusuf Kalla, waited until near the end of the debate to draw attention to a number of corruption scandals plaguing key members of the big coalition of six political parties assembled by Mr Prabowo and his running mate Hatta Rajasa

“Mr Prabowo, in your campaign in Bandung yesterday, you said that there are some thieves," Mr Kalla said. "We are not thieves. We don’t have thieves [on our side] of beef, thieves of rice, thieves of oil, thieves of haj [money]. So to whom were you addressing your words?”

Mr Prabowo answered with the extraordinary concession: “I’m not saying there are no thieves in my party.”

He added that, what he meant was that all of Indonesia was plagued by “weaknesses” and "transactional voting” and that “the spirit of democracy is damaged by many ways, many people”.

For the candidate who presented himself as a decisive corruption fighter backed by a powerful coalition, and who had thundered against “foreign thieves” as the main scapegoat for Indonesia’s ills, it was a misstep.

The debate flared on social media. Politicawave, a group that monitored Indonesia's huge number of social media users, said the hashtag #Jokowi9Juli trended worldwide, with 64,297 conversations about Mr Joko and Mr Kalla.

"Netizens supported Jokowi-JK in all segments of the final debate," the group's founder Yose Rizal said.

The Prabowo hashtag, #Pilih_No1_PrabowoHatta had 22,584 mentions.

The group, which also measured positive and negative sentiment in tweets, counted 46,721 "net positive" tweets for Mr Joko and Mr Kalla, and just 11,652 for Mr Prabowo and Mr Hatta.

Australian academic Aaron Connelly from the Lowy Institute tweeted of the debate: "That last exchange was a glimpse of the debate that the Indonesian people deserved these past few weeks. They never really got it."

Much of the earlier part of the debate on food, energy and the environment was taken up with the peculiarly Indonesian obsession of food self-sufficiency.

Both candidates agreed Indonesia should stop importing beef from Australia. “I want the cattle to be born in Indonesia,” Mr Prabowo said.

He insisted the country had “ample cattle” to feed the growing needs of its people, and it was only a matter of improving slaughterhouses and distribution networks and encouraging a “change in mindset” away from “neoliberalism” to “a more collective orientation”.

Mr Joko said imports could end in five or six years when Indonesia could be self-sufficient.

Indonesia’s beef industry remained primitive and under-developed. The previous agriculture minister, Suswono, tried to bring about self-sufficiency by 2014 after Australia briefly suspended live trade over animal welfare concerns.

The result was beef shortages and price hikes. The limited import program was corrupted (and people from Suswono's party jailed) and slaughterhouses killed breeding cows and dairy cattle for their meat, which caused a collapse in herd numbers and the resumption of imports from Australia.

On the environment, both candidates agreed that ending deforestation, addressing climate change and balancing the needs of a growing population were of high importance.

A study revealed Indonesia was now chopping down its primary forests at a faster rate than in Brazil's Amazon, and the rate was increasing.

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