Like most people living in Indonesia, Unspun’s impression of the presidential candidates had been confined mainly to a diet of TV newscasts, print news stories and the endless rhetoric – for one side or another – on social media. So like most people Unspun watched the first presidential debate last night with some expectations: a mercurial, fiery orator in Prabowo big on the national issues and a somewhat vague Jokowi who may be good on city administration homilies but all out at sea on national issues. Like most people Unspun was pleasantly surprised. The Tiger of Asia (Macan Asia) proclaimed by Prabowo’s campaign banners turned out to be a doddering pussycat. Instead of being inspiring and articulate, he looked puffy, unsure and unprepared, delivering normative, boring answers. Jokowi, on the other hand, was starting to look versatile and presidential. Instead of wearing his trademarked checked shirt, he wore a dark suit, white shirt and red tie. And although unpolished he demonstrated that he could take on national issues and articulate coherent solutions and policies. How did this come to pass? How does someone of Prabowo’s background – an elite family, good education, stints overseas become so inarticulate and fumbling, while a simple businessmen who stumbled into politics could spur himself toward being presidential? There must be many reasons but if Unspun had to guess Probowo’s folly rested on two intertwining factors: hubris and a New Order mindset. The hubris was evident when a day before the debate Mahfud MD, who is now heading the Team Sukses Probowo-Hatta, told reporters that Prabowo was already prepared for the debate and had no need to practice. It would seem that they were all drinking the Kool Aid at the Gerindra headquarters. Hubris mixed with a New Order mindset can be a fatal combination. The New Order mindset is characterised by a self-perception fed by acolytes and bereft of any reality checks. So in the run-up to the presidential debate Prabowo must be looking at the mirror and seeing a ferocious Asian Tiger. Jokowi, on the other hand, was reported to be mugging up for the debate. Unsure of himself, he nonetheless had the pluck to take on this wholly new level of challenge and, from his performance last night, managed to master at least some of the basics. The question that we have to ask ourselves is what do their performances at the debate, given the context, say about the presidential candidates? To Unspun it says that Prabowo is moribund to the old ways. That there is substance to the rumour that he usually thinks that he’s the smartest guy in any room, and therefore does not need to put in the extra effort to put in a good presentation. he takes things – his abilities, his privilege, his stature for granted. Jokowi, on the other hand, does not have a fixed mindset. He is willing to learn new things and he’s obviously a fast learner. He is adaptable and if he keeps this up he’s likely to master the new skill of managing the presidency. What wasn’t surprising were the performances of the running mates. Prabowo’s Hatta Rajasa was yet another Order Baru creature, spewing out normative without conviction. Jusuf Kalla was more engaging and sometimes witty. His baiting of Prabowo over human rights in 1998 was masterful. Of the partnerships the Prabowo-Hatta relationship looked like a master-factotum relationship while there was a synergy between Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla. Unspun is looking for the next round where the presidential candidates face each other alone. Will Prabowo be able to come down from his high horse and work toward a better performance? Will Jokowi be able to hold the floor on his own without Kalla’s support? This is all shaping out to be a more interesting presidential race than though and the television, much reviled in Indonesian educated society for their usual trashy programming, may yet prove to be the great leveller of Indonesian politics through the presidential debates. And yes, the moderator sucked. So did the moving LED backdrop.
Published by unspun
An eternal student of persuasion, communication and crisis management skills, with a propensity to unspin spins View all posts by unspun