FASCISM -THE FEAR THAT’S NEAR
Could Australia face a fascist leader next door after the Indonesian Presidential election in February? That’s getting more likely as the polls harden, hoaxes flourish and slanders stir.
The disgraced former general Prabowo Subianto, 72, is a candidate, but no friend of democracy, once claiming it’s an unsuitable system for Indonesia.
He’s been learning from populists like Donald Trump and Peter Dutton that the best way to rouse the masses is to say outrageous things that lazy journos don’t challenge.
As Defence Minister Prabowo has been revelling in the attention and often making a fool of himself, though that doesn’t seem to bother his backers.
During an earlier campaign televised debate, he reportedly said that terrorist attacks in Indonesia were caused by non-Muslims disguised as Muslims, inferring the thugs were Christians (the second largest faith group) or the hated atheists.
Earlier this year Agence France-Presse reported ‘multiple videos that have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube and Facebook falsely claiming Indonesia and Australia are at war over the ownership of Ashmore Reef’. The videos' origins are unknown so can't be linked to Prabowo, though they fit the narrative.
In a speech in early November at the Ministry of Defence Prabowo reportedly told staff that unnamed ‘big global forces’ were after the Republic’s wealth.
He then switched to charging ‘foreign intelligence agencies interfering in conflicts in Indonesia.’ His information was ‘based on sources’, so far unnamed.
His office has not responded to a request for an interview to clarify his claims, but he's publicly located four internal conflict zones, with West Papua the most serious concern for Canberra as pro-independence activists operate in Australia.
Horror stories from the province keep erupting but successive Australian governments have shunned involvement in the long-running Papua dispute, and in 2015 signed the Lombok Treaty to confirm their official hands-off position.
That won’t pacify Prabowo if his focus groups suggest bashing the neighbours yields votes. Australians probably reckon confronting a nation with eleven times the population as too nutty to contemplate.
Though not to Indonesians nurturing sour memories of their neighbour's actions, starting with our involvement in the 1999 referendum that led to the independence of East Timor, fracturing the ‘unitary state’.
This was followed by Diggers leading peacekeepers after Indonesian militias rejected the result and turned to killing and burning.
In 2006 we took in 43 Papuan asylum seekers; the Indonesian ambassador pulled sticks and for a while quit Canberra.
In 2013 our spy agencies were exposed tapping the phones of sixth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - till then a confirmed Ozophile - and his wife Ani.
So much protein for the paranoid. Little surprise then that Lowy Institute polling in 2021 showed only 55 per cent of Indonesians said they trust us - a 20-point drop across the decade. Around one-third of respondents reckoned we're a threat.
US historian Professor Christopher Browning links fascists to ‘inflammatory rallies; the incessant mongering of fear, grievance, and victimization; the casual endorsement of violence; the pervasive embrace of conspiracy theories; the performative cruelty; the feral instinct for targeting marginalized and vulnerable minorities; and the cult of personality.’
Prabowo ticks every box.
Here’s the state of play leading to the 14 February poll: Apart from Prabowo two other candidates want to run the world’s fourth most populous nation with the largest number of Muslims.
One is Dr Anies Baswedan, previously an academic and Jakarta governor. The second is a former lawyer and provincial governor Ganjar Pranowo.
In their party affiliations and statements, both 55-year-old 'family men' come across as centre-left moderates with tolerably clean records by Indonesian standards.
Should one of these win office Australians could probably rest easy, expecting a continuation of the slumber-time enjoyed under the current president Joko ’Jokowi’ Widodo.
Foreign affairs is a limp starter in the Presidential race where domestic issues are clear favourites. Much depends on who becomes foreign minister, what coalition parties the president brings into his Cabinet, and the deals done to keep office.
Last year Prabowo talked about Russia as ‘a very good friend to Indonesia’ but the long-held ‘free and active’ policy of non-alignment with major powers will likely remain, annoying Washington and Beijing.
Prabowo’s Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) party has 75 seats in the 575-member Parliament. It rarely goes into specific policies, and when it does they're contentious and confusing, like banning gays in government jobs, then rescinding.
Prabowo was born in Jakarta in 1951, the son of a famous Dutch-educated economist. His mother was a Protestant. Prabowo’s younger brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo is a business tycoon reportedly worth US$685 million; he’s helped bankroll his sibling’s political ambitions.
After joining the military Prabowo studied in the US and developed an admiration for Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkiye.
His career wasn’t harmed by his 1983 marriage to Soeharto’s mega-rich second daughter Siti Hediati Hariyadi. Their son Didit Hediprasetyo, 39, is now a fashion designer in Europe.
The couple divorced in 1998. Some Muslim groups want them to remarry so the State has a First Lady, an idea Siti has scuppered.
Prabowo allegedly committed human rights abuses when crushing the East Timorese independence movement last century. He was also allegedly behind the kidnappings of 23 pro-democracy activists in 1998. Some survived - 13 vanished.
He was cashiered and fled to exile in Jordan, but was never charged.
Six years after his dismissal he returned with grand ambitions, seeking to be the presidential nominee for his former father-in-law’s party Golkar.
When that bid went down the gurgler he started Gerindra and stood for President in 2014. When he lost to Jokowi he did a Trump, alleging ‘massive systemic fraud’. None was proved.
After failing again in 2019 he rejected the result, declared himself the winner and claimed he'd unleash ‘people power’ to get his way. He went to the Constitution Court to prove his case. He couldn't. Riots followed. Six died and hundreds were injured. Police alleged protesters were paid Rp 300,000 ($30) each to foment strife.
Should Prabowo lose again in February pessimists fear a St. Valentine’s Day massacre could follow, for the short-fuse septuagenarian will never get another shot at the job he desperately craves and fervently believes to be his destiny.
If he loses be afraid. If he wins be very afraid.
First published in Pearls & Irritations, 29 November 2023: https://johnmenadue.com/facism-the-fear-thats-near/