If presidential elections were to be held today, it is probable that Prabowo Subianto would be chosen by the Indonesian electorate to become Indonesia's next president. Various surveys indicate that Prabowo, a former high military officer as well as a successful businessman, is the most popular person to replace incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in mid 2014 when new presidential elections will be held (which are not joined by Yudhoyono as he is finishing his second and final term as president).
Prabowo, born in Jakarta on 17 October 1951, is son of renowned economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo (1917-2001). After high school, Prabowo decided to pursue a military career and enrolled in Indonesia's Military Academy in Magelang (Central Java) between 1970 and 1974. He quickly passed through the ranks of the army and became Commandant of the Special Command Force General (Kopassus) and was later appointed as head of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad). However, in the late 1990s the regime of president Suharto, Prabowo's father in law, starting to crumble until its collapse in 1998. Based on witness accounts of Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie (Indonesia's third president) and retired army officer Sintong Panjaitan, Prabowo attempted a (failed) coup when he positioned his army units close to the house of then president Habibie, shortly after the fall of Suharto.
Prabowo is a highly controversial figure in Indonesia. He is regarded as a human rights violator when he was stationed in East Timur to crush the East Timorese independence movement in the early 1990s. Reputedly, Prabowo was also behind the kidnappings and disappearance of various pro-democracy activists in 1998, when many people took the streets of Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia to demand for democracy. His weak reputation in terms of human rights can be used by his political opponents on the road towards the Indonesian presidential elections.
After the fall of the Suharto regime, Prabowo was discharged from the military and went into a voluntary exile in Jordan. But a few years later, he came back to Indonesia and entered politics. In 2004, Prabowo wanted to participate in the presidential elections by becoming Golkar's nominee (Golkar is one of the largest political parties of Indonesia and was the political vehicle of former president Suharto during his authoritarian regime). However, that position went to another former military officer, Wiranto. Prabowo then decided to establish his own political vehicle, the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), which participated in the elections of 2009. The party did not get enough votes in order to nominate a presidential candidate and therefore Prabowo decided to run as vice presidential candidate to Megawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno. However, the two lost to the Yudhoyono-Boediono pair.
Being closely connected to the former authoritarian New Order regime and often mentioned as a human rights violator, it may surprise some that Prabowo enjoys popularity and even leads various surveys that measure people's support for specific presidential candidates. The answer is that many Indonesians want a strong leader as they are disappointed in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's performance. The latter is regarded having acted weak in some issues regarding religious violence or discrimination and failed to tackle corruption within political circles (in fact within his own party a number of sensitive corruption cases emerged). Prabowo is also known as a highly nationalistic person, while many Indonesians feel that Yudhoyono's political and economic agenda is too much influenced by foreign institutions (such as the IMF or World Bank).
There are no recent official documents regarding the wealth of Prabowo but, based on a document that was released in 2009, the wealth of Prabowo is estimated to be around IDR 1.7 trillion (USD $172 million, using today's exchange rate). The younger brother of Prabowo, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, is the 39th richest person in Indonesia according to Forbes magazine in 2012, with an estimated wealth amounting to USD $750 million. The brothers were beneficiaries of Suharto's patronage system. In this system, a small inner circle around Suharto was able to establish large business empires. Up to the present, wealth is an important factor in Indonesian politics as people can buy political support through money-politics.
However, there is one outsider who forms a potential threat to Prabowo Subianto's leading position in the surveys. Incumbent governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo (perhaps more known as Jokowi), enjoys much popular support for his style of governance (his closeness to the people and reformist nature). Research conducted by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia, abbreviated LIPI), released on 30 June 2013, indicates that, if Jokowi would participate in the 2014 elections, it would upset the current polling results. However, despite his popularity, it remains unknown whether Jokowi will participate. Up to this day, he has denied any intention of joining the race, instead focusing on his position as governor of Jakarta.
Agung Budiono is an analyst at Jakarta-based Pol-Tracking Institute