In the past week, commotion occurred in Indonesia related to the presidential election (which is scheduled for 9 July 2014). This commotion, which involved two 2001 interviews by award-winning American journalist Allan Nairn, a Nazi video, and US ambassador Robert O. Blake Jr, was related to controversial presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, former army general and former son-in-law to Indonesia’s second president Suharto. The 2014 election has become a tight race between Subianto and market favourite Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.
Subianto is a controversial figure in Indonesian politics for several reasons. As army leader, he has been linked to human rights violations in East Timor in the 1980s and in Jakarta in 1998, both against forces that rejected the authoritarian Suharto regime (known as the New Order, 1966-1998). As Suharto crony, he was member of a small elite that benefited considerably from the corrupted authoritarian system. With such a controversial background, many analysts - both foreign and domestic - doubt how Subianto will be able to bring justice and prosperity to the world’s third-largest democracy (after India and the United States) if elected the country’s next president. If elected, it would seriously harm Indonesia’s credibility as a democratic and just society, particularly from a western point of view. On the other hand, it can be stated that a country gets the leader it deserves, and with Indonesian society still tainted by corruption, inequality, nepotism, and a lack of moral and ethical values, a leader who owns these 'qualities' would fit.
Interviews (2001) by Allan Nairn
Last week, Indonesian media focused on a segment of two 2001 interviews with Subianto (conducted by Allan Nairn on an off-the-record basis). In 2001 Nairn was investigating Indonesian army involvement in recent murders and managed to interview Subianto (who had been ousted from military service in 1998 due to "the kidnapping and disappearance of pro-democracy activists" according to Subianto’s former commanding officer Wiranto) in June and July 2001. Although these interviews were agreed to be undertaken in anonymity, Nairn decided to mention Subianto’s name and the content of the interviews 13 years after having taken place. According to the journalist, the 2001 interviews contain important information that the Indonesian people need to know before going to the ballot boxes on 9 July 2014. In these interviews, Subianto said that “Indonesia is not ready for democracy” but instead needs “a benign authoritarian regime” due to the country’s diversity of religions, ethnicities and cultures. In the interviews Subianto spoke of his admiration for General Pervez Musharraf, who imposed dictatorship in Pakistan. Subianto continued: “Do I have the guts. Am I ready to be called a fascist dictator? Musharraf had the guts.”
After the publication of this segment on the blog of Allan Nairn, controversy flared up in Southeast Asia’s largest economy. It was reported that the Indonesian army would arrest Nairn if the latter would enter Indonesia. In a response to this, Nairn - who currently is in Indonesia - said that he would be happy to be arrested and sued for libel because that would give him the opportunity to accuse Subianto of crimes against humanity in a public court case.
Ahmad Dhani’s Nazi Video
Indonesian singer (and judge on television show Indonesian Idol) Ahmad Dhani came under fire in domestic and international press after the airing of his latest music video (a cover of Queen’s classic ‘We Will Rock You’). This Nazi-themed music video was made in the context of the presidential campaign of Subianto. In the video, Dhani and others dress up in Nazi-style clothing (reportedly Dhani’s jacket is identical to the jacket worn by Heinrich Himmler, one of the top figures of Nazi Germany). Although Dhani made this video on his own initiative, he received thankful words from Subianto. On Subianto’s Facebook page, he thanked Dhani as it increases his fighting spirit ahead of the election. This endorsement of Subianto is highly sensitive, particularly in the western world.
Dhani has also been a controversial figure in Indonesia since September 2013. In that month, his 13-year-old son caused a deadly accident (killing seven people) when speeding and losing control of his car. Later it became known that Dhani had given his son a Mitsubishi Lancer for his son’s 12th birthday, five years below the legal driving age in Indonesia. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, Dhani blamed others for his son’s car accident.
US ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake Jr.
Lastly, US ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake Jr became the centre of attention after he wrote in an email (addressed to the Wall Street Journal), last week, that the Indonesian government should investigate Subianto’s past, specifically his alleged involvement in human rights violations. Although many people, both Indonesians and foreigners, have requested for a serious investigation into Subianto’s controversial past, the statement coming from the US ambassador was extra sensitive and triggered outrage in some Indonesian political circles.
The close race between Jokowi and Subianto has made many foreign investors nervous (evidenced by recent weak rupiah exchange rate performance, a slow retreat by foreigners from high-yielding bonds and a slowly slipping stock market).
On Sunday 29 June 2014, the next presidential debate will take place, organized in the Bidakara hotel (South Jakarta). However, this will not be a debate between the two presidential candidates, but between the two vice presidential candidates: Jusuf Kalla (Jokowi’s running mate) and Hatta Rajasa (Subianto’s running mate). The theme of the debate will be development of human resources, science and technology.