Jakarta: Indonesian presidential contender Prabowo Subianto ordered the abduction of democracy activists in the dying days of dictator Suharto’s rule, used to be married to one of the strongman’s daughters, and was once refused entry to the US over rights abuses.
But the ex-general’s dark past has done little to stop his charge for the country’s top job, and he mounted an impressive comeback against Jakarta governor Joko Widodo — the long-time favourite who is seen as a break from the Suharto era.
With his promises of firm leadership and fiery nationalistic speeches, the 62-year-old cut Widodo’s once-huge lead to just a few points ahead of the July 9 election.
However it looks like it was not enough, as most reliable pollsters predict Widodo will emerge the winner by several points when the official results are announced. They are expected on Tuesday.
However both Prabowo and Widodo declared victory on election day, and the ex-general is unlikely to drop his claim to the presidency easily.
He is almost certain to challenge the results at the Constitutional Court, claiming that Widodo’s team engaged in widespread vote-tampering during the lengthy process of tallying the ballots. The court has until late August to rule.
Prabowo is “extremely hungry” for the job, according to veteran Indonesia analyst Kevin Evans.
“I think he recognises this is his last serious run for it, so it’s now or never. He’s a man who’s held great ambitions for himself and his country since he was a young fellow,” Evans told AFP.
The ex-general turned businessman, who is worth some $150 million, has fought a decade-long battle to win high office in the world’s third-biggest democracy.
Prabowo sought to become the presidential candidate of the Golkar party, Suharto’s former political vehicle, in 2004, but was not selected.
He then left to form his own party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party, and ran for vice president in 2009 on a ticket with ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who failed to win.However, the prospect of Prabowo taking charge in Indonesia has sparked concerns that democratic gains made since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998 could be rolled back.
In one speech in Jakarta, Prabowo railed at Western-style politics, saying that such a system “doesn’t suit” Indonesia.
“But it has already happened, just like direct elections, they have already been put in place,” he said.
Prabowo has since insisted that he thinks Indonesia’s democracy should be protected.
His nationalistic pronouncements during the campaign, such as promises to further squeeze foreign companies operating in the resources sector, have also sparked alarm among investors.
Prabowo was born in 1951 to a wealthy, prominent family. His father was Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, who served as finance and trade minister, while his grandfather established the country’s first state-owned bank.
When he was five, his family fled overseas after his father became involved in a separatist movement, and he lived in countries including Singapore, Switzerland and England. He returned to Indonesia and joined the military in 1970.
In 1983 he married one of Suharto’s daughters, Siti Hediati Hariyadi, but they have since divorced.
In his role as head of the army’s special forces, he ordered the abduction of democracy activists ahead of Suharto’s downfall.
He was dismissed from the military in 1998 over the kidnappings, and went into voluntary exile in Jordan.
On his return several years later he launched a career in business, and now has interests in many areas, from pulp and paper, to palm oil and energy.
A Prabowo victory could prove awkward for the United States, an Indonesian ally. He was once refused a visa to the US over his rights record, although American officials have indicated that he would likely be allowed to visit as president.
Prabowo Subianto: Ex-general with a dark past