Indonesia presidential front runner draws fire in final debate

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Prabowo (left) speaks beside vice presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka during the last presidential election debate at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC) in Jakarta on February 4, 2024. – AFP photo

JAKARTA (Feb 5): Indonesia’s presidential front runner Prabowo Subianto drew flak in his final debate with election rivals yesterday over issues from women’s rights to remarks about voters’ intelligence, as they battle to run the world’s third-largest democracy.

Nearly 205 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in the February 14 vote that will determine the successor to popular two-term President Joko Widodo, who is barred from running to lead the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation again.

Third-time candidate and current defence minister Subianto is ahead in opinion polls, widening the gap since choosing Widodo’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as his running mate last year.

But in the last of three debates he was criticised by former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, who according to polls are neck and neck for a potential second-round runoff vote against Subianto.

Pranowo criticised Subianto for last month suggesting people who wanted free internet instead of free lunches — a key policy of the defence chief — were not intelligent.

“Which is more important, free internet or free food for those who are struggling, for the poor? That’s what I meant to say,” said Subianto.

Baswedan questioned him about rates of violence against women under the current government.

“The level of violence against women is extremely high… from catcalling to physical violence,” said Baswedan.

“All of it must be dealt with firmly.”

Subianto said he would do more to protect women and support women’s rights NGOs if elected.

Baswedan also appeared to accuse the government of increasing social aid before election day to win over lower-income voters.

“Social aid is a help for those who accept it, not for those who give it,” he said.

After appearing to support his son and Subianto, Widodo has been widely criticised for trying to create a political dynasty in a country long known for its nepotistic politics. — AFP