Jakarta residents watch a screening of the first debate between President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto and their respective running mates Ma'ruf Amin and Sandiaga Uno, on Jan. 17, 2019. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

First Presidential Debate Ignites Concern Over Future of Human Rights in Indonesia


JANUARY 21, 2019

Jakarta. Civil society groups and human rights organizations have expressed concern over the future of law enforcement and the protection of human rights in Indonesia, sharing a common view that neither candidate showed any commitment to these issues during Thursday's first presidential debate.

"The Community Legal Aid Institute [LBH Masyarakat] is pessimistic about the quality of law enforcement and human rights protection in Indonesia over the next five years after watching the first presidential debate," the Jakarta-based rights group said in a statement on Friday last week.

Human rights, law, corruption and terrorism were the main themes last week in the first of five debates between incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and former Army general Prabowo Subianto, along with their respective running mates Ma'ruf Amin and Sandiaga Uno, ahead of the April 17 election.

The LBH criticized both candidate pairs for a lack of visionary ideas to uphold the rule of law in the country.

In a separate statement, Amnesty International Indonesia expressed a similar view, highlighting that the issue of human rights was merely a commodity used for electoral politics.

"If we take a look at the normative arguments they expressed [during the debate], it can be said that both candidate pairs were merely using human rights for their electoral benefit," said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

According to the LBH, the candidate pairs' lackluster approach to law enforcement and human rights may have been due to neither of them having a strong suit on these issues. 

"Both pairs stuttered when elaborating their views on law enforcement and human rights. This might have been because both have a bad track record on human rights," the LBH said. 

Jokowi has come under repeated criticism for failing to resolve past cases of human rights abuses, despite promises he made in the 2014 presidential campaign, as well as increasing pressure on marginalized groups in Indonesia during his presidency. 

On the other hand, Prabowo has been implicated in human rights violations, including during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and mass demonstrations in 1997 and 1998. 

Below Expectation

The General Elections Commission (KPU) was also criticized by various groups, including the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which said commission's choice of debate format failed to meet the public's expectations, resulting in a lack of spontaneity and creativity.

The debate format also did not provide room for a meaningful discourse on human rights issues, including those affecting marginalized communities, religious minorities and the Papuan people.

Kontras also highlighted the lack of supporting data by the candidates to corroborate their claims, saying that they were "playing safe."

"They did not make statements that directly involved their opponent in human rights issues," Kontras said.

Rudi Liu, a 25-year-old software engineer from Sanggau, West Kalimantan, shared this sentiment with the Jakarta Globe, saying that the first debate was "too mellow."

Rudi pointed out that Jokowi and his running mate, Ma'ruf, for example, did not allude to allegations of forced disappearances against Prabowo, who on his part, also did not touch on the incumbent's failure to resolve cases during his term, including the one involving an acid attack on Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan.

"Neither candidate pair really provided any concrete solutions to human rights issues in the country," Rudi said.

Amnesty International's Usman said the candidate pairs' vision to strengthen the KPK was not supported by a human rights perspective.

"There is a desire from both candidate pairs to strengthen the KPK, but they missed out on the human rights aspect in the efforts to tackle corruption by not bringing up the attack against Novel Baswedan and other members of the KPK," he added.

Meanwhile, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) noted that neither candidate pair showed substantial understanding of human rights and urged for the inclusion of several issues, such as intolerance and past human rights abuses, in the remaining debates.