In­done­sia's con­tro­ver­sial mil­i­tary strong­man Prabowo Su­bianto looks for pres­i­dency

De­feated by Joko ‘Jokowi’ Wi­dodo in the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, In­done­sia’s con­tro­ver­sial mil­i­tary strong­man Prabowo Su­bianto is hop­ing to ride a wave of hard­line Is­lamist sen­ti­ment all the way to the pres­i­dency in next year’s elec­tions

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - – Paul Mil­lar


Once the son-in-law of In­done­sian dic­ta­tor Suharto, for­mer gen­eral Prabowo Su­bianto has main­tained close ties with In­done­sia’s dy­nas­tic fam­i­lies through­out the na­tion’s tran­si­tion to­wards demo­cratic rule. It is per­haps these ties to the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment that have al­lowed Su­bianto to main­tain a level of pop­u­lar­ity and in­flu­ence in the main Gerindra op­po­si­tion party de­spite long-stand­ing al­le­ga­tions of war crimes against the pro-in­de­pen­dence move­ment in Ti­mor-Leste dur­ing his ten­ure there in the early 90s. Su­bianto has also been ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of a num­ber of prodemoc­racy ac­tivists dur­ing the 1998 protests in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.


De­spite los­ing to new­comer

‘Jokowi’ in the bit­terly fought 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Su­bianto has once again reared his head as a ri­val to Jokowi’s re-elec­tion next year af­ter the Gerindra party named him as their pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. But with Su­bianto’s war ch­est re­port­edly still run­ning low af­ter the ex­trav­a­gances of the 2014 cam­paign, the ques­tion of whether the for­mer gen­eral will be able to mar­shal both the wealth – and po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal – to chal­lenge the still-pop­u­lar Jokowi con­tin­ues to plague the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment.


Vedi Hadiz, pro­fes­sor of Asian stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne’s Asia In­sti­tute, told South­east Asia Globe that while Su­bianto may be con­tent to po­si­tion

him­self as a king­maker in next year’s elec­tion, the for­mer gen­eral had long had the pres­i­dency in his crosshairs. “[Su­bianto] is dic­tated by his ego,” he said. “He likely thinks he was born to rule. Jokowi is now a known quan­tity and so he is no longer the ‘fresh’ pres­ence in In­done­sian pol­i­tics that he used to be. Some of the pres­i­dent’s

sup­port­ers are dis­ap­pointed that he has not turned out to be the re­former that was promised – but it was silly to ex­pect him to

be that in the first place.”


If last year’s dis­as­trous Jakarta gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion is any­thing to go by, then yes. The vi­cious cam­paign saw longterm Jokowi ally and Chi­nese-Chris­tian Ba­suki ‘Ahok’ Tja­haja Pur­nama not only crushed po­lit­i­cally, but im­pris­oned on trumped-up blas­phemy charges af­ter months of hard­line Is­lamist protests. “This is what [Su­bianto] hopes will be his trump

card,” Hadiz said. “Those as­so­ci­ated with his camp have cul­ti­vated sup­port amongst

many of the most hard­line of Is­lamist el­e­ments very con­sciously. In many ways, their in­for­mal al­liance with these el­e­ments against Ahok was a test case for 2019. The key is to try to ef­fec­tively con­nect these

Is­lamist sen­ti­ments with wide­spread so­cio-eco­nomic griev­ances in In­done­sian


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