Tyranny of proximity

Jun 14, 2024
Malang, East Java, Indonesia. 18th Nov, 2023. Indonesian defense minister and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto gave a program speech to hundreds of Muslim scholars ''Kiai Kampung''at a building in Malang city, East java, Indonesia, onA November 18, 2023. Image: Alamy /© Aman Rochman/ZUMA Press Wire

The pundits are already in a tizz: What’ll happen to defence, AUKUS, trade and other relationships should Trump win in November? More pressing and certain is how we’ll cope when Indonesia’s President-elect Prabowo Subianto takes office in October.

Next door there’ll be a leader “with demonstrated disregard for the rule of law …seen by many as a war criminal” and not the person most voters wanted in the February poll.

Proof is that two earlier stabs at the Presidency and one at the VP job by the disgraced and aging former general were all been trashed by the electorate.

Prabowo only won this year when coupled with Gibran Rakabuming son of the current and popular President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo with voters hoping the lad will be Dad Version Two.

It’s widely accepted that the youngster’s presence on the ticket has put right-wing Prabowo in power.

But for how long? The life expectancy for Indonesian men is 68. Prabowo will be 73 when inaugurated. About half the population of the world’s fourth-largest nation is under 30.

Should plump, reportedly hot-tempered Prabowo become too unwell to govern, Vice President-elect, Gibran, 36, will be the youngest leader in Indonesian history – and probably the world.

He’s a Singapore-educated businessman from the regional city of Solo where he’s been mayor. His wife accountant Selvi Ananda was a Catholic but had to convert to Islam to marry. He has no military background and is not known for religiosity.

Prabowo is the Republic’s version of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. There’s little Indonesian material online to back that slander of fascism; most comes from Australian researchers.

Instead, locals get details of Prabowo’s massive electoral victory – 55.5 per cent in a three-man contest – won through playing the role of an avuncular and caring statesman. Cartoon images contrived through his PR team have whitewashed his alleged villainy.

Missing are at-length interviews with independent Western journalists for Prabowo is afraid. Not from misunderstanding questions in English, a language in which he’s fluent from schooling in London, but because he’s – let’s be careful here – a stranger to frank talk with a free press.

He knows he’ll be asked about his past; however much he spins his sins of yesteryear and tries to push them away as unproved and unimportant, all the while claiming the future is the only thing that matters. A pub-test fail.

For an oversight of the man who’ll lead the world’s fourth most populous nation with more Muslims than any other country – and our neighbour – the best analysis is a 12-page background briefing here.

It comes from Australian writer and human rights activist Pat Walsh who was seconded by the UN to help establish and advise the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR) after the 1999 East Timor referendum.

It’s a damning document that should have provoked legal challenges, but wasn’t on TikTok so passed with little notice. It’s also possible Prabowo wasn’t keen to fuel international publicity.

A shortened version was published ahead of the February election in the prestigious magazine Inside Indonesia with the heading: Is Prabowo fit and proper to be Indonesia’s next president?

This is Walsh’s answer [personal communication]:

“Until he is cleared of allegations of wrongdoing, Prabowo is not fit and proper to serve as the president of this great nation.

“If Prabowo is elected a dark cloud will settle over Indonesia. Indonesia will be perceived as regressive, prepared to forget rather than remember and learn, and to tolerate impunity when, in fact, it could be a beacon of democracy and champion of the rule of law in a much-troubled region and world.”

Corrosive, but the reality is that this is the man Canberra will have to deal with for the next five years.

Some of Walsh’s analysis is based on evidence given to CAVR; this concluded that the commando Kopassus Special Forces “were responsible for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, 1975-1999.

“As a member and then a commander of Kopassus, Prabowo undertook at least four tours of duty in East Timor…They show (he was) anything but an innocent or bit player.”

Walsh’s voice is not isolated. Tim Lindsey, professor of Asian Law at Melbourne Uni has written:

“There are claims of human rights abuses against him (including alleged kidnappings, forced disappearances and war crimes by troops under his command); and his campaign was marred by accusations of unethical conduct and collusion.

“Prabowo has been very clear in the past that he thinks the democratic reforms that followed the fall of Soeharto in 1998, should be wound back.

“…as he settles into office, a further gradual dismantling of democratic checks and balances, institutions and individual freedoms is very likely. Critics of Prabowo have good reason to be concerned.”

After he was cashiered for disobeying orders, and his marriage with President Soeharto’s daughter Siti hit the rocks, Prabowo fled to exile in Jordan.

He returned years later as a businessman backed by his billionaire younger brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo who helped bankroll his third campaign.

Since the poll, Jokowi has restored Prabowo’s rank as a four-star general. He’d earlier made him Minister for Defence.

So how does Walsh feel now?

“I am shocked by the ease with which Prabowo won,” he told your correspondent. “That he pulled it off in one round against credible alternative candidates and despite his obvious unsuitability is stunning.

“That his military failures and dismissals, violations of human rights and the rule of law, international pariah status (declared persona non grata by three US presidents and Australia), age, lack of legislative and government experience and previous electoral failures, were ignored, beggars belief.”

International diplomacy protocols ensure Prabowo will be treated with respect by PM Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong whatever they feel personally. Indonesia is too big, too close and too important to snub.

Should he come to Australia he’ll be shielded from physical harm, but don’t expect any open media conferences.

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!