Undercurrents in Indonesia's presidential tussle

Undercurrents in Indonesia's presidential tussle
Indonesian presidential candidates Joko Widodo (left) and Prabowo Subianto after Sunday’s presidential debate. The latter came out with all guns blazing on Sunday in a complete turnaround.

As befits the general, Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) contender Prabowo Subianto came out with all guns blazing in Sunday's second presidential debate in a complete turnaround from his strangely nervous performance a fortnight before.

This time, without the reassuring presence of running mate Jusuf Kalla, Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) rival Joko Widodo was the nervous one at times as the pair traded differing visions on the economy.

But a little fashion advice for Mr Prabowo: lose the white safari jacket. Looking like a puffier version of founding president Sukarno, as he appears to be doing, doesn't work. This is 2014 and he is appealing to the youngest electorate in the country's history.

The same could be said about the T-shirt makers in Yogyakarta and Solo who, by dressing Mr Joko's image in an Australian army greatcoat, are trying to picture him as another General Sudirman, the young hero of the independence struggle.

Habitually casual, Mr Joko doesn't look all that comfortable in the dark suit he wears for the debates. Before the first encounter it took a while to persuade him not to wear his trademark red and blue checked shirt. His minders said he had to look presidential.

It is not the first time Mr Prabowo can be faulted for a lack of dress sense.

When the polo-playing enthusiast rode a horse into the national stadium for a pre-legislative election rally last March, only one figure came to mind: Benito Mussolini.

Kitted out in jodhpurs and peci (Muslim cap), the comparison with a famous picture of a similarly mounted Italian dictator was so striking, even Gadja Mada University international affairs professor Mochtar Masud had exactly the same reaction.

Of course, most Indonesian voters have probably never heard of Il Duce and might even have been impressed at seeing Mr Prabowo spurring his well-trained chestnut past massed ranks of red-bereted followers.

But it certainly jarred with some of his former superiors, who are now trotting out the dirt on the former Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) commander - an offensive so predictable it is surprising how ill-prepared Mr Prabowo has been to counter it.

When the wily Mr Kalla uncorked a question about his human rights record during the opening debate, Mr Prabowo scrambled to respond, raising his voice in the process but managing to keep a rein on his notoriously hot temper. He might be excused for having a little stage fright. Seated in front of him were former army chief Hadi Siswoyo Soebagyo and a cabal of other retired generals, including Luhut Panjaitan, Fachrul Razi, Suaidi Marasabessy, Sutioso and Hendropriyono.

None has warm and fuzzy feelings towards Mr Prabowo from their days in the military when then president Suharto's son-in- law made a stable of enemies among his fellow officers by doing things his way and ignoring the chain of command.

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