As far as political debates go, AIYA NSW’s 2014 Indonesian Election Preview on Thursday 3rd April was pretty spectacular to behold.

A “politician” from six of the major Indonesian parties were present on the night – a remarkable Australian first! Associate Professor Simon Butt from the University of Sydney’s Law Faculty set the tone as the debate’s moderator under the guise of the Indonesian Constitutional Court, and drew everyone’s attention to the large envelopes on his desk before the speeches began!

Prabowo Subianto (Alison Martin, political media and policy adviser) of Gerindra took to the stage first, and nearly had us believing that his dubious human rights record would make him a more experienced President. Second up, the PDI-P’s Jokowi (Dr Ross Tapsell, Asian Studies lecturer at ANU) reminded us what all the fuss is about as he chose to avoid the stage altogether to sit among the audience. Jokowi adopted his classic ‘man of the people’ style as he jumped around asking people about which political issues matter most to them, of course carefully ensuring the cameras were always pointing his way!

The crowd also enjoyed passionate speeches from Nasdem’s Surya Paloh (Fritz Siregar, SJD candidate at UNSW), the newest running party, and Wiranto from Hanura (Natalie Sambhi, analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute). Both sought to persuade the audience that they were not one-man shows from minor parties, but have what it takes to win the 2014 election! The representative from the embattled Partai Demokrat (Fajar Hirawan, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney) assured us of his party’s tolerant and democratic credentials with statistics on just about everything, but even his assurance that his party will ‘memberi bukti, bukan janji!’ didn’t quite sway the crowd!

The speeches wrapped up with the spin-doctor to end them all, Golkar’s Abu Rizal Bakrie (Conjoint Associate Professor David Reeve from UNSW). Undeterred by jokes about the mud on his shoes (a reference to the Lapindo mudflow disaster in East Java, which arguably happened on Bakrie’s watch), Bakrie delivered an impassioned speech on his decision to celebrate his business success by buying a political party, and on why it was high time someone with a few less O’s in their name became President of Indonesia! The audience couldn’t contain their laughter as Bakrie rattled off the O-heavy names of his predecessors and fellow candidates, concluding that Joko Widodo was the worst of the lot and it was time to give the other vowels a chance!

A great Q&A session at the end contained both serious and funny questions, from whether Jokowi felt he was abandoning his responsibilities as Governor of Jakarta, to whether Bakrie preferred Marcella or Olivia (the actresses involved in his dubiously ‘educational’ trip to the Maldives in 2010)! While the night was perhaps a little light on party policies, it was heavy on entertainment value and was certainly a political debate like no other. Thanks to our amazing speakers and to the wonderful audience who attended!