Indonesia election: What to expect from Prabowo Subianto?
Asia Featured Global News Human Right Indonesia National Security News Politics

Indonesia election: What to expect from Prabowo Subianto?

A former general with ties to the brutal regime of former dictator Suharto, Indonesia’s likely new president has tried to soften his image and promised to continue the populist policies of President Joko Widodo

Prabowo Subianto, a former-general-turned-defense minister, is set to become Indonesia’s next president after taking a huge lead in unofficial results and declaring victory in Wednesday’s general election.

This is the third attempt for 72-year-old Subianto at the presidency, having lost to current President Joko Widodo twice, in 2014 and 2019. Widodo, popularly known as “Jokowi,” is leaving office as a hugely popular leader with an 80% approval rating after serving the maximum two terms.

Subianto joined Jokowi’s government as defense minister in 2019 and has since tried to emphasize that any bitter rivalry with the president is a thing of the past. He aligned his campaign with Jokowi’s popularity by promising continuity with the president’s agenda, including populist domestic programs, and economic modernization.

Subianto also controversially named Jokowi’s eldest son, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his running mate, after the minimum legal age to hold office was lowered from 40. Although Jokowi did not formally endorse any candidate, Subianto has widely been considered as Jokowi’s implicit preference to become president.


However, it remains to be seen what shape Subianto’s policy takes after these preliminary results become official and he takes office.

“The key thing here is that Prabowo’s alignment with Jokowi has very much been an electoral strategy, not necessarily a governing strategy,” Doug Ramage, an analyst with BowerGroupAsia, told Reuters news agency.

What were Subianto’s campaign promises?

Subianto’s election manifesto was based on a platform titled “Developing Indonesia,” which included pledges of an 8% economic growth target and improvements to the palm oil production chain.

His campaign also ran on promises to raise salaries for civil servants, police and military officers, and provide more affordable housing, along with a pledge to eradicate extreme poverty in two years.

Subianto also pledged to continue working on a project to move Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to a planned city called “Nusantara” in the province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The plan, known as the Nusantara Capital City (IKN) project, had been ratified by Jokowi in 2019.

Aditya Perdana, a political scientist at the University of Indonesia, told DW it is likely that Subianto will be able to fulfil the promise to continue work on the IKN, although “balancing the interest and the investment from the West and China in the new capital project will be a challenge.”

“The next government has to be able to manage it so that it will not heavily favor one side,” he said.

Another cornerstone campaign promise by Subianto was a free lunch program for schoolchildren and free extra nutrition for pregnant women to combat stunting.

Indonesians wait and see

Bhima Yudhistira, director of the Jakarta-based think tank Center of Economic and Law Studies (Celios), said Indonesians will be watching to see whether a Subianto government “will run their policies and populist programs during the first year in office and whether the state budget will support it.”

One of the public’s immediate concerns is food prices and the availability of staples like rice and sugar. “Market players are also looking forward to know who will take over the offices of ministry of agriculture and trade, as this will play an important role,” Yudhistira said.

On the global economic front, Yudhistira said the next administration will face headwinds, as overall economic growth around the world is expected to slow over the next two years.

“The Chinese economy as our largest trading partner is also facing problems domestically. There is a property crisis, there is a slowdown, retail domestic consumption is also weak in China, this will certainly provide challenges” for Indonesia’s government in the future, he said.

Trying to soften strongman image

Subianto has tried to soften his public image, including with a recent social media campaign portraying him as a “cuddly grandpa.”

However, the image makeover belies his murky past with links to Indonesia’s Suharto dictatorship, which ended in 1998. For 15 years, Subianto was Suharto’s son-in-law.

Subianto is accused of involvement in several human rights violations while operating in Timor-Leste in the 1980s and 90s as commander of an Indonesian special forces unit during Indonesia’s occupation of the now-independent country. Subianto has denied those allegations.

He is also accused of commanding a unit that was allegedly involved in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists during the end of the Suharto dictatorship in the late 1990s.

Although he was never formally charged, Subianto was dishonorably discharged from the military after the incident and went into exile.

For two decades until he became defense minister in 2019, Subianto was banned from entering the United States because of the alleged Timor-Leste human rights abuses.

But it appears Indonesians are willing to leave Subianto’s past behind, as one voter told DW: “Give him a chance, why not, he’s already elderly.”

Source: DW