Subject: SMH in Jakarta: Ex-Kopassus Chief Adopts Bizarre Poll Tactic

also Outsider Prompts 'General' Unease

The Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, February 23, 2009

Former Kopassus Chief Adopts Bizarre Poll Tactic

Victims of the special forces unit have been hired as party candidates, writes Tom Allard in Jakarta.

A SOEHARTO-era commander of Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces unit has a novel way of deflecting concerns about grave human rights abuses on his watch as he contests this year's national elections: he has hired some of the activists abducted and beaten by his troops as campaign workers and legislative candidates.

Prabowo Subianto, who is running a well-financed campaign for the presidency thanks to his billionaire brother, Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, was sacked from his military post in 1998 after a tribunal found troops under his command kidnapped pro-democracy students.

He is also accused of orchestrating multiple abuses during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and playing a role in the looting of Chinese businesses and the mass rape of Indonesian-Chinese women in Jakarta as Indonesia descended into chaos in 1998, the year the dictator Soeharto was ousted from power.

Prabowo, who fled to the Middle East after the fall of Soeharto, denies any wrongdoing. Still, the US continues to deny him a visa - highly problematic if he becomes president. "In a certain administration we could say it was preventive detention, and if the regime changes, then we say it's kidnapping," Mr Prabowo said on Friday of the activities of Kopassus's Rose Team, responsible for the abductions.

Three of those kidnapped now worked for his party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra. "Some say it's the Stockholm principle," he said in an often jocular address to correspondents in Jakarta. One of the former activists is his media officer while two are standing for seats in the new parliament.

Pius Lustrilanang is one of the legislative candidates, and was snatched off a Jakarta street by Kopassus forces in February 1998.

"I was forced to go into a car. My eyes were blindfolded," he told the Herald. "They interrogated me, tortured me and I was beaten. They held me for about two months."

Mr Lustrilanang said Mr Prabowo had apologised to him years ago but acknowledged the wealth behind the Prabowo campaign was a factor in joining the party after two attempts to stand for parliament for Megawati Soekarnoputri's PDI-P organisation.

"Look, I'm tired of siding with the wrong guys. I don't want to make that mistake again," Mr Lustrilanang said. "To me, Prabowo is a character who doesn't give up easily and is willing to learn. These elements are essentially important today as this country is still sunk in various problems."

Mr Prabowo, who previously attempted to launch a political career through Golkar, the party of Soeharto, is standing on a populist economic agenda with strong nationalist overtones.

Somewhat brazenly for a scion of Indonesia's elites who was once married to Soeharto's daughter and whose father was a finance minister in the Soeharto regime, he claims to head the "party of the dispossessed".

Gerindra claims a membership of 11.2 million and a stint as head of the Indonesian Farmers Association has given Mr Prabowo an extensive network of contacts. He has a powerful oratory style and his reputation as a charismatic strongman still carries appeal.

Polls show Gerindra has less than 5 per cent support, placing Mr Prabowo fourth or fifth among the presidential candidates.

Nonetheless, he is regarded as a dark horse in the poll. Gerindra has been blitzing the media with slickly produced TV ads. No party has more than 25 per cent support and candidates for the July poll will be selected in coalition-building after the April elections. Mr Prabowo's enormous financial clout ensures he will have plenty to bring to the table once the horse-trading begins.

-- with Karuni Rompies


The Australian Financial Review

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jakarta Observed

Outsider Prompts 'General' Unease

by Angus Grigg

It was a performance to remember, an act of sheer front.

Prabowo Subianto, the retired three-star general, spent two hours rewriting history last week in preparation for his tilt at the Indonesian presidency.

The son-in-law of former president Soeharto was deathly funny and worryingly convincing.

It was spin of the highest order.

The man who played a central role in Soeharto's New Order regime labelled the kidnapping of student activists in 1998 "preventative detention", while in East Timor he was just a soldier serving his country.

He had an answer for everything, even suggesting Indonesians should thank him for never staging a coup.

"I commanded 34 battalions and did not use them to continue the power of the New Order," he said.

"I wished I had led a coup, now that I think about it," he said, laughing with the crowd.

But there was one question Prabowo couldn't evade. In an address to the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club he confirmed the United States had refused to issue him a visa.

This speaks to the seriousness of allegations made against him. In East Timor, for example, he is accused of funding gangs that tortured, murdered and kidnapped pro-independence figures.

Some believe he should be tried as a war criminal.

In the May 1998 riots that brought down Soeharto he is accused of using troops under his command to propagate rape and violence against the Chinese community in north Jakarta.

Despite volumes of testimony to the contrary, Prabowo maintains he "served with honour" and that his "conscience is clear".

Regardless, he should still be politically toxic in a country proud of its hard-won democracy and the reforms of the past decade.

This, however, is not the case.

Prabowo, while an outsider to become president, has re-emerged as a political force. His Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, claims to have 11.2 million members and is forecast to win more than 7 per cent of seats at the national elections in April.

This would not be sufficient to give Prabowo a shot at the presidency - candidates need 20 per cent of seats - but would provide the basis for a coalition ticket.

If this were to happen the race could become very interesting.

Prabowo, with his presence, humour and command of the language, is a highly effective campaigner.

He also has huge financial resources, thanks to his businessman brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who has already poured many millions into a national TV campaign.

Another factor is Indonesia's demographics.

It's estimated that one in four voters are too young to remember the Soeharto era in any detail and therefore Prabowo is something of a cleanskin to them.

He could, with the right spin, represent change.

To this end his campaign has targeted the lower rungs of society and those left behind in the good years, who will be hardest hit in the present financial downturn.

"We have become the party of the dispossessed and the poor," he said.

That a gold-plated member of the Indonesian elite, who launched his campaign at a polo club owned by his family, can consider himself a man of the people is certainly curious.

Even more of a stretch, however, is his claim to have always been a democrat and advocate for reform, while systematically undermining democracy and human rights during his 28 years in the military.

"Prabowo is the most charismatic, enigmatic, unusual and weird guy I have ever known in my life," a defence analyst was quoted as saying in Adam Schwarz's book, A Nation In Waiting.

"He's also laudable and detestable . . . Pick an adjective and it fits."

Political and religious leader Amien Reis is less charitable, describing Prabowo as a "criminal" and a "mercenary intellectual".

Others have labelled him a "toy soldier" and "nut case".

Whatever his reputation, he can't be written off as he could well have a stake in the next government of Indonesia.

There is a suggestion that, while the presidency is the ultimate goal, he might settle for control of one or two powerful ministries.

If President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wins a second term, as the polls suggest, he is likely to once again assemble a "rainbow" cabinet to ensure parliamentary support for his legislative agenda.

If Gerindra were to gain about 7 per cent in the new parliament it could well ask for one or two cabinet seats in return for its support.

Prabowo has told some in Jakarta he is eyeing the mining and agricultural ministries - hardly surprising given his family's extensive interests in coalmining, corn production and palm oil plantations.

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