Prabowo-Sandiaga camp suggests presidential debate in English, Jokowi-Ma’ruf team counter with Quran recital suggestion

President Joko Widodo (R) and former general Prabowo Subianto (L) speak to journalists after their meeting at Prabowo’s compound in Jakarta on October 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO

Should Indonesia’s leader be fluent in English? Well, supporters of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and VP candidate Sandiaga Uno seem to think so.

Politicians from political parties supporting the Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket recently called for modifications to the presidential debate format, the main point being they want more time for candidates to speak and convey their ideas. However, another of their suggestions has become a topic of contention: having one of the debates in English.

“That might be good, yes. Things like these need to be discussed,” National Mandate Party (PAN) Central Executive Board Chairman Yandri Susanto told the media yesterday, as quoted by Detik. He added that an Indonesian leader’s English proficiency should be tested since he or she would speak in international forums often.

Gerindra Vice Chairman Fadli Zon, Prabowo’s right-hand man, welcomed the suggestion.

“If [there’s a debate in English] then that’s good. If not, then that’s okay. But if there is, that’s a sign of progress,” he said.

Supporters of President Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin say they’re against Anglicizing the presidential debate and that doing so would open up the debate to further foreign influence.

“In regards to the English debate suggestion, we are very supportive,” United Development Party (PPP) Deputy Secretary General Indra Hasim Kasibuan said ironically, as quoted by Detik today.

“In fact, we should have a debate in Arabic and conduct a Quran recital test as well.”

It’s highly unlikely that the General Elections Commission (KPU) would consider any of these suggestions, but if there were an Arabic or Quran test, we can’t imagine Prabowo-Sandiaga winning considering Ma’ruf Amin who was (technically, still is) the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the nation’s highest Islamic clerical body.

However, if there was a debate in English, Prabowo-Sandiaga would likely win comfortably. President Jokowi’s English is hardly impeccable, often reading off a script during speeches at international forums (including his latest “Thanos” speech) and even then, words don’t exactly roll off his tongue comfortably. Prabowo, on the other hand, speaks English at a seemingly native level, and videos highlighting the gap between his and Jokowi’s English proficiency have gone viral in recent years.

Regardless, Sandiaga, who would also greatly benefit from a debate in English, considering he received his MBA from George Washington University, said that it would be a bad idea for the practical reason that not all Indonesians can speak, and therefore understand, English.

Indonesia will go to the polls on April 17, 2019 but dates for debates between candidates have not been set by the KPU. In 2014, five presidential debates took place within a month before the July 9 election date.

Do you think Indonesia’s president should be fluent in English/Arabic/Quran reading? Let us know your thoughts in the comment below.

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