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Why This Presidential Front-Runner Is Stirring Fears of the ‘Death of Democracy’

Why This Presidential Front-Runner Is Stirring Fears of the ‘Death of Democracy’


He hoped to succeed Indonesia’s longtime dictator. He ordered the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists. He was accused of atrocities throughout the ruthless navy occupation of East Timor. He has stated elections run counter to his nation’s tradition.

Even so, Prabowo Subianto has spent the previous 20 years attempting his hand at democratic politics, donning totally different personas in a number of makes an attempt to change into Indonesia’s chief.

Now, a month earlier than the subsequent election, practically each ballot exhibits Mr. Prabowo, 72, main within the first spherical of voting. His rise, with the assistance of a operating mate who’s the son of the favored departing president, Joko Widodo, has alarmed hundreds of thousands of Indonesians who nonetheless bear in mind the brutal and kleptocratic rule of Suharto, Mr. Prabowo’s former boss and father-in-law.

A victory for Mr. Prabowo, his critics warn, would revive a darkish previous.

“What will occur is the dying of democracy,” stated Hendardi, the director of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace. Like many Indonesians, he goes by one title. “We have lengthy been towards Prabowo,” he added, “and with our restricted energy, we have been nonetheless in a position to stop him from shifting ahead. But now he has gained this help.”

On the marketing campaign path, Mr. Prabowo, who’s the present protection minister, has dismissed issues about his observe file.

But he has continued to show his strongman bona fides. At a presidential debate this month, Mr. Prabowo talked about the necessity to develop a powerful navy, saying with out it, a nation “shall be crushed,” simply as in Gaza immediately.

He is in a three-way race with Anies Baswedan, the previous governor of Jakarta, and Ganjar Pranowo, who ran Central Java.

To win outright on Feb. 14, Mr. Prabowo would want to clinch at the least 51 p.c of the vote. Surveys present that he’s far forward of his rivals, however his help tops off round 46 p.c, implying he’ll in all probability be compelled right into a runoff in June and prone to face stiffer competitors.

For years, a Prabowo presidency was thought of a distant risk in Indonesia, one in all Southeast Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

To many Indonesians, Mr. Prabowo is a logo of the 32-year reign of Suharto. Following Suharto’s 1998 ouster, he was discharged from the Indonesian navy after the armed forces discovered he was concerned within the abduction and torture of pro-democracy activists. More than a dozen stay lacking and are feared dead.

Ucok Munandar Siahaan was a 21-year-old scholar when he vanished on May 15, 1998. His father, Paian Siahaan, 76, found later that he had been serving to detained anti-government activists. For a long time, he has been urgent the authorities for solutions.

Every evening, Mr. Paian stated he prayed the identical prayer: “God, please save him.” In latest months, he has added one other one: that Mr. Prabowo wouldn’t change into president.

“In my thoughts, he won’t be elected due to our prayers, the prayers of the oppressed folks,” he stated.

Mr. Prabowo’s file on human rights — which additionally consists of accusations that his feared Kopassus particular forces slaughtered a whole bunch in a crackdown in East Timor — led the United States to bar him from coming into the nation for years.

He was by no means charged in a legal courtroom.

In 2014, he introduced himself as a navy strongman, bellowing nationalistic speeches, however misplaced to Mr. Joko. Five years later, Mr. Prabowo portrayed himself as a religious Muslim and leaned on communal canine whistles, accusing Mr. Joko of secretly being a “Chinese Christian.” He failed once more however claimed that he was a victim of election fraud and rallied hardline Islamists to protest the ends in violent road demonstrations. (Indonesia has the world’s greatest Muslim inhabitants.)

In this marketing campaign, Mr. Prabowo has tried to shed his popularity for a unstable mood by portraying himself as a gemoy, or cute, grandfather who dances at rallies. And he has implicitly received the backing of Mr. Joko by naming his 36-year-old son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his operating mate. Billboards throughout Indonesia present cartoons of a doe-eyed and chubby Mr. Prabowo along with Mr. Gibran.

Mr. Prabowo was not obtainable to remark, stated Budiman Sudjatmiko, the deputy chairman of the Prabowo-Gibran marketing campaign staff advisory board, who was as soon as a fierce critic of Mr. Prabowo. The presidential hopeful, he stated, had “discovered so much” from being surrounded by Mr. Joko and his supporters.

“He’s not in navy service, so he ought to play a task as a civilian politician — reachable, accessible and extra pleasant,” stated Mr. Budiman, who was a political prisoner below the Suharto regime.

This makeover has discovered traction amongst Indonesia’s youth, the nation’s largest voting bloc. People below 30 didn’t develop up below Suharto, and plenty of know little concerning the horrors of his regime as a result of they don’t seem to be lined within the nation’s textbooks.

For Defi Afra, a 21-year-old first-time voter who has seen movies of Mr. Prabowo on TikTookay, “He is a humorous, humorous determine. He additionally appears good and sort.”

Ms. Defi, a scholar within the metropolis of Yogyakarta, stated she solely not too long ago discovered of Mr. Prabowo’s previous on social media. But she shrugged it off, saying, “He couldn’t refuse orders from his superiors.”

The rehabilitation of Mr. Prabowo’s picture started years in the past, when Mr. Joko appointed him to be defense minister. He emerged as a average politician loyal to Mr. Joko, who was identified for his down-to-earth type and skill to work with politicians from totally different events. The appointment additionally allowed Mr. Prabowo to re-enter the United States.

But Mr. Prabowo’s tenure in that job has been marred by setbacks, together with a failed effort to purchase secondhand fighter jets and a botched meals safety program.

Mr. Joko initially appeared to help his party’s candidate, Mr. Ganjar, the previous Central Java official. Then in October, Mr. Gibran joined Mr. Prabowo’s ticket. The alliance, critics say, is an effort by Mr. Joko to increase his influence on Indonesian politics by grooming his son for the presidency. For now, it has pushed Mr. Prabowo’s reputation even larger.

“It may be very miserable,” stated Goenawan Mohamad, the founding father of Tempo, a outstanding investigative journal.

Mr. Prabowo, in accordance with Mr. Budiman, needs an Indonesia that’s “extra simply and extra honest socioeconomically,” pointing to his proposal of free milk in faculties and plan to remodel Indonesia, whose financial system is pushed by commodities, right into a “digital nation.”

Mr. Prabowo was born to one in all Indonesia’s most outstanding political households. His father, Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, fled Indonesia within the Nineteen Fifties after he was accused of supporting a rise up towards the federal government. Mr. Prabowo spent his early years in England and Switzerland and later attended Indonesia’s navy academy. In the Eighties, he married a daughter of Suharto, although they separated about 15 years later.

He is assumed to have amassed a fortune of about $130 million, in accordance with native information media experiences. His brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, a tycoon himself, helped arrange the Gerindra Party within the late 2000s that has change into the automobile for Mr. Prabowo’s political ambitions.

In June, he laid out why he was vying once more for the presidency.

“I really feel that God has given me many blessings, advantages and benefits,” he instructed a tv host. “I’ve been given the chance to know the issue of this nation.”

But many villagers throughout Indonesia have a distinct view. In 2020, Mr. Joko put Mr. Prabowo answerable for a program geared toward curbing the nation’s reliance on meals imports.

In the village of Desa Talekung Punei, the federal government stated it needed to clear about 20,000 acres of forest land to develop rice. There have been no feasibility research executed to see if the soil was appropriate for rising rice, in accordance with Ihwan, a resident and activist for a nonprofit group.

Residents resisted the plan, saying they relied on the forest for his or her livelihoods. Still, the Defense Ministry despatched in groups to clear tracts of land. When the seeds arrived, they’d expired and have been infested with bugs, Ihwan stated. The land now sits deserted.

Rin Hindryati and Hasya Nindita contributed reporting.

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