A survey conducted by Lembaga Survei Indonesia (Indonesian Survey Institute, abbreviated LSI) shows that about 51.5 percent of respondents believe that current presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto was involved in the kidnapping and disappearance of political activists in May 1998. Subianto - commander in chief of the Kostrad (the Indonesian Army's Strategic Reserve Command) in the period March to May 1998 - has since long been linked to human rights violations in Jakarta’s May 1998 riots as well as in East Timor in the 1980s.
The survey also indicated that 37.5 percent of respondents believe that Subianto was not involved in the kidnapping and disappearance of political activists. The survey, which was conducted between 1 and 9 June 2014 through random sampling, involved 2,400 respondents spread across the whole archipelago, with a two percent margin of error.
LSI researcher Adjie Alfaraby said that the high amount of respondents (51.5 percent) that believe Subianto was involved in human rights violation forms a problem for his chances in the July presidential election, in which he competes with Jakarta Governor Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. Roughly 57 percent of respondents stated that the possible involvement of Subianto in the Jakarta May 1998 riots will affect their decision when voting for the new president. On the contrary, 34 percent declared that his possible involvement in human rights violations has no influence on their decision for a new leader.
As the survey indicated that over 50 percent of voters will be influenced by Subianto’s possible involvement in human rights violations, Alfaraby advised Subianto’s team to find a strategy to curb this influence if he wants to win the election. A wrong response to this issue, for example a too emotional reaction can make matters worse. This more or less happened in the first debate, broadcast live on national television, between both camps and when Subianto reacted a bit emotionally when answering the question how he can safeguard human rights in the future given his controversial past. Subianto in fact went over the top claiming that he is the country’s toughest human-rights defender.
Earlier in June, a leaked document that circulated on the Internet shed light on the true reasons of Subianto's dismissal from the military service in August 1998 and casts doubt on his suitability to serve as Indonesia’s next president. Reportedly, three former generals - Agum Gumelar, Fachrul Razi and incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - have all acknowledged that the document is authentic. Reportedly, the leaked document reveals Subianto’s undisciplined character as an army leader, and cites the political activists’ kidnapping in May 1998 as one of his violations where he ignored orders from superiors.
In May 1998 - amid a severe financial crisis leading to food shortages and unemployment - pro democracy forces were growing on Java and Sumatra, calling for an end to the authoritarian Suharto regime (1966-1998). Between 12 and 15 May mass violence occurred in Jakarta after four unarmed students were shot dead by army forces (‘Trisakti shootings’). It resulted in the deaths of about 1,500 people and destruction of about 4,000 buildings. In the chaos, political activists were kidnapped, some of whom are still missing. Suharto stepped down on 21 May 1998 marking the start of the democratization process, but the country had to pay a high price.