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Attack the best defence

By Duncan Graham - posted Thursday, 7 August 2014

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.

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.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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