The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, August 07, 2014


Attack the best defence   

The most powerful person in Indonesia right now is neither the outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), nor his democratically elected successor, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi). We know what they’re doing - planning for a smooth transition.
The man with the muscle is former general Prabowo Subianto, the bad loser in the 9 July two-horse race for Indonesia’s top job. His power comes from his unpredictability. So far his bids to overturn the result have been legal, but only Prabowo knows his gameplan. 
Prabowo was a military man for 28 years and believes in what he calls ‘the soldier spirit”. Real warriors never surrender, particularly when they have 65 million people on their side. 
Prabowo has never served as a politician or administrator. His public life has been fouled by allegations involving the disappearance of student activists, claims so serious that he’s been black-listed by the US and Australia. But for the past decade he’s worked furiously to reshape his image, become a serious contender – and then win.
To operate properly democracy requires a fair system and a gracious loser.  So far only the first condition has been accomplished.
Prabowo lost the election by six per cent – that’s more than eight million votes.  Obviously the Electoral Commission (KPU) must be wrong, so a battalion of lawyers is challenging the result in the Constitutional Court alleging “massive and systematic fraud.”
The decision will be handed down on 22 August. Appeals are not allowed.  Many commentators believe the court will dismiss Prabowo’s challenge. If so, what then? 
Allegations that the KPU illegally opened ballot boxes have already been referred to the police. Mobs of supporters have padlocked the KPU’s gates. Another tactic being canvassed is for a parliamentary committee to examine the election.  If successful the Presidential inauguration scheduled for 20 October could be stalled, pushing the nation into politically hazardous territory.
In a post-result 23-minute video speech Prabowo told his supporters the election was a “failure”, “illegitimate” and had “violated the rules of democracy”. He said there were only two choices:
“To stand as a nation of honoured knights, or to be forever subject as a nation of lackeys, a nation of slaves, a weak nation, a nation that can be bought, a nation that can be bribed.

“The choice is in our own hearts… answer to me so I know who is going to continue with my fight until the final drop of blood … This is not an end to the struggle. This is the beginning of our struggle. Freedom!”
Hardly the language of one seeking an honourable way to concede defeat, more the rhetoric of a combatant digging in for a siege.  The problem is that the further this runs the harder it will be for a proud man to pull back.
Post-election pride in democracy: proof of voting
 Prabowo, former son-in-law of dictator General Soeharto who controlled the country for 32 years, desperately wants to take over the fourth largest nation in the world.  His raw ambition isn’t totally fuelled by altruism; he believes he’s the rightful heir because his leadership was foretold by his mother, so he knows his destiny was of a man born to rule.
Indonesians are spiritual people and many are superstitious.  The culture is rich with stories of predictions and curses, omens and supernatural events that are embedded in the belief systems of millions, even those who are well-educated.
Prabowo is backed by some of the richest men in Indonesia.  Tycoons, like Aburizal Bakrie, also control the most popular free-to-air TV stations in a country where electors get their information from the screen, not papers. Some of this ‘news’ has been scandalously biased against Jokowi and blatantly false.
When the East Timorese voted four-to-one for independence in the 1999 Referendum the Indonesian forces, having earlier convinced themselves that change was impossible, destroyed buildings, infrastructure, crops – and almost 1,500 civilians - using para-militaries to carry out a scorched earth campaign.
Prabowo wasn’t there – he’d run away to exile in Jordan after being kicked out of the military for exceeding orders during an unsuccessful bid a year earlier to put down a pro-democracy protest in Jakarta. It’s alleged he was involved in the torture of activists and the disappearance of 13, but has never been formally charged.
Despite his bad human rights record Prabowo won votes by claiming he had the strength to make things happen – and that his rival, a former furniture salesman with no connections to Soeharto, was not a fit and proper candidate.

There’s little doubt Jokowi (right) is a democrat and appears to be a humble and decent bloke, but is he up to the task of running the world’s fourth largest nation facing enormous economic and social issues?  
He could grow into the job but so far his speeches have been embarrassingly uninspiring.  As the Plan B candidate selected when his sponsor Megawati Soekarnoputri was persuaded not to stand, Jokowi is looking more and more like the Accidental President. 
According to Australian academic Gerry Van Klinken “ … there is no denying that Joko Widodo is no intellectual with a clear analysis of what needs to change to make Indonesia a more equal, more prosperous, more fair society.”
Blunt analysis of the democrats’ golden boy is rarely heard, for in their euphoria Jokowi supporters have canonised their man.
The truth is Jokowi will need widespread sympathy, backing from mongrel political operators and a great deal of luck to make any difference to the lives of ordinary Indonesians for he’ll be up against some towering barriers.  Foremost is the Legislative Assembly (DPR) which is already loaded against the President elect by two-to-one.
Despite regular predictions that Prabowo’s ‘permanent coalition’ of opposition parties is about to collapse, and that his backers are quitting, this hasn’t happened. Prabowo seems to be keeping any waverers in line with his never-say-die campaign.
At the moment he’s the man still calling the shots.  Hopefully not literally.

(First published in On-Line Opinion, 7 August 2014:

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