TV debate caps month-long fight for highest office

Capping a month-long campaign, both pairs of candidates for Wednesday's election squared off for the fifth and final presidential debate yesterday, on the issue of energy, food security and the environment.

And it was soon apparent that Mr Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, and his running mate, Mr Jusuf Kalla, popularly called JK, turned in a better performance than their rivals, Mr Prabowo Subianto and Mr Hatta Rajasa.

The Jokowi-Kalla ticket was widely seen to have won the first debate on politics a month ago, but neither Mr Joko and Mr Prabowo, who faced off in the next two debates, nor their running mates, Mr Kalla and Mr Hatta, who did so last Sunday, starkly outperformed the other during the intervening debates.

Last night, Mr Joko and Mr Kalla stressed the urgency of action over broad visions when it came to dealing with problems of energy and food security and conserving the environment.

Mr Hatta, who spoke first, said the quality of the country's air, water and land had to be improved so environmental degradation is not passed on to the next generation, and that sustainable development had to be a priority, without going into specifics.

Mr Kalla in turn said there was a need to improve public transport in major cities to reduce reliance on fuel, to explore alternative sources of energy and to restore forests.

"We all know what the problems are," Mr Joko added. "What there doesn't seem to be is the will to resolve them."

He said there were not enough research and incentives on alternative energy sources, areas his government would focus on if elected.

"Our forests, our coral reefs are also spoilt because we focus too much on economic development over sustainable development," he said.

But Mr Prabowo retorted to say that economic growth was important. "We have five million new residents every year, five million new mouths to feed. We have to prepare food, facilities, for them," he pointed out.

Both presidential candidates also stressed the importance of increasing food self-sufficiency, a subject on whose concept they did not disagree, although they differed significantly over its details.

"I meet farmers every day. In terms of energy, we have a strong understanding of the issue," Mr Joko had told reporters last Friday.

Mr Prabowo has also chaired the Indonesian farmers' association and the association of market traders, and has regularly railed against what he sees as an excessive reliance on food imports.

But his ability to go all out on the topic appeared to be limited as Mr Hatta was until recently coordinating economic minister in the current government, and it would be hard for Mr Prabowo to attack policies that his running mate was directly overseeing.

Both Mr Prabowo and Mr Joko have said agriculture and food security appear to have taken a back seat in recent years, and pledged to do better on this front in a bid to win votes from agricultural workers and fishermen, who make up about one in five voters.

This article was first published on July 06, 2014.
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