JAKARTA - Presidential contenders Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto were in a dead heat at their first one-on-one debate last night on the issue of economic development and social welfare.
Mr Joko, or Jokowi as he is popularly known, said economic growth had to be directed at prosperity for all and focus on developing human capital through education, and called for a "mental revolution".
Mr Prabowo hit straight at the leakage of some 1,000 trillion rupiah (S$110 billion) from the nation's economy through corruption, pledging to stem it and divert the funds for a "people's economy".
Last night's was the second of five presidential debates ahead of the July 9 election, but the first time both candidates went on stage without their respective running mates, former vice-president Jusuf Kalla and coordinating economic minister Hatta Rajasa. Both men were in the audience at a downtown Jakarta hotel where the debate was held.
Indonesia's next president will be sworn in on Oct 20, and will take charge of South-east Asia's largest economy at a time when growth is tipped to slow to just above 5 per cent this year - its weakest in five years.
The absence of the two vice-presidential candidates was felt, as both Mr Joko and Mr Prabowo fell short on details.
The Jokowi-Kalla ticket was widely seen as having trumped its opponents at the first debate last Monday, but Mr Prabowo appeared more prepared last night. He gave a nationalistic edge to his platform, saying that Indonesia's wealth "has to be for the people of Indonesia".
"We cannot let it leak or be diverted outside the country."
Mr Joko, meanwhile, recalled how ordinary Indonesians he had met - farmers, fishermen, teachers - on his recent campaign stops nationwide all hoped economic growth would improve their well-being.
"Economic growth must be accompanied by equitable distribution. It will be a key focus for us," he said.
Yesterday's debate came as two opinion polls released earlier in the day showed the Jokowi-Kalla ticket still ahead of Prabowo-Hatta, but that their lead had narrowed sharply to 6 to 7 per cent, down from 10 per cent two weeks ago.
The Pol-Tracking Institute in its survey from May 26 to June 3 found Jokowi-Kalla would get 48.5 per cent of votes and Prabowo-Hatta 42.1 per cent.
The Indonesian Survey Circle in its June 1-9 survey found Jokowi-Kalla would get 45 per cent against 38.7 per cent for Prabowo-Hatta.
The televised debates organised by the Election Commission have been a key campaign fixture since Indonesians began directly electing their president in 2004.
This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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