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Who is Prabowo Subianto: Indonesia’s Next President?

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Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies, is on the verge of welcoming a new leader. Prabowo Subianto, a wealthy ex-general with ties to both the country’s popular outgoing president and its dictatorial past, has claimed victory in the 2024 presidential election. While he promises to continue the widely popular policies of the current administration, concerns about his human rights record have raised questions about the future of Indonesia’s democracy. In this article, we will delve into the background of Prabowo Subianto, exploring his rise to power, his controversial past, and what his presidency could mean for Indonesia’s growth and democracy.

Early Life and Military Career

Prabowo Subianto was born in 1951 into one of Indonesia’s most powerful families. His father, Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, was an influential politician and a minister under Presidents Sukarno and Suharto. Subianto’s upbringing was marked by periods of exile due to his father’s political affiliations. He spent most of his childhood overseas and became fluent in French, German, English, and Dutch.

In 1970, Subianto enrolled in Indonesia’s Military Academy and graduated in 1974. He went on to serve in the military for nearly three decades, joining the Indonesian National Army Special Force, known as Kopassus, in 1976. Subianto’s military career was not without controversy. Human rights groups have accused him of involvement in a series of human rights violations, particularly in East Timor during Indonesia’s occupation of the region. These allegations include claims of torture, disappearances, and killings.

Controversies and Political Ambitions

Subianto’s controversial past came to the forefront in 1998 when he was dishonorably discharged from the army. He was linked to the abduction of over 20 student democracy activists, 13 of whom have never been found. His dismissal marked a turning point in his life, and he went into self-imposed exile in Jordan.

Despite his troubled history, Subianto returned to Indonesia in 2008 and entered the political arena as a founding member of the Gerinda Party. He ran for the presidency twice, losing to the popular incumbent, President Joko Widodo, on both occasions. However, in a surprising turn of events, Widodo appointed Subianto as the Defense Minister in 2019, signaling a bid for unity and reconciliation.

Rebranding and TikTok Influence

To appeal to a younger demographic in the 2024 election, Subianto underwent a significant rebranding effort. Utilizing platforms like TikTok, he transformed his image from a former military general to a cuddly, cat-loving grandfather. His social media presence showcased his dance moves and relatable moments, targeting young Indonesian voters who may not have been familiar with his controversial past. This rebranding campaign played a crucial role in winning over a decisive number of young voters.

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The 2024 Election: Prabowo’s Victory

In the 2024 presidential election, Subianto emerged as the front-runner, leading in the polls before the vote and maintaining a commanding lead in the unofficial results. With most of the ballots counted, he appeared to have captured over 55% of the vote, surpassing the threshold for an outright win. While awaiting the official results, Subianto declared himself the victor, emphasizing the importance of Indonesian democracy and claiming the victory as a win for all Indonesians.

Prabowo Subianto’s Leadership Style and Policies

As Indonesia’s next president, Prabowo Subianto promises to continue the modernization agenda initiated by the outgoing president, Joko Widodo. He aims to build on the country’s rapid growth and bring Indonesia into the ranks of middle-income countries. His focus on economic development includes capitalizing on Indonesia’s abundant natural resources, such as nickel, coal, oil, gas, and palm oil. These industries have played a significant role in Indonesia’s economic success and are vital contributors to the global market.

Despite his promises of continuity, concerns have been raised about Subianto’s leadership style and potential impact on Indonesia’s democracy. Critics argue that his right-wing populist tendencies and authoritarian leanings could pose a threat to the country’s democratic institutions. Subianto has previously suggested abolishing presidential term limits and has expressed admiration for authoritarian leaders. This has raised alarms among democracy activists who fear that he could become Indonesia’s next strongman.

Foreign Relations and Geopolitical Balancing

Indonesia’s geopolitical positioning and its relations with major powers like the United States and China are crucial factors in Subianto’s presidency. Indonesia has managed to maintain good relations with both superpowers, participating in military exercises with the U.S. while attracting significant Chinese foreign investment.

Subianto has expressed commitment to maintaining positive relationships with both China and the U.S., emphasizing the importance of balance and pragmatism in Indonesia’s foreign policy. However, critics remain skeptical of his ability to navigate the complex dynamics of global politics, particularly given his controversial past and statements regarding authoritarian leadership.

Conclusion: The Future of Indonesia under Prabowo Subianto

Indonesia stands at a critical juncture with the election of Prabowo Subianto as its next president. While he promises to continue the economic development and modernization initiated by the outgoing administration, concerns about his human rights record and authoritarian tendencies cast a shadow over the future of Indonesia’s democracy.

As Subianto takes office, it remains to be seen how he will navigate the delicate balance between economic growth, geopolitical relations, and democratic principles. Indonesians, particularly the young demographic that played a significant role in his victory, will closely monitor his actions and hold him accountable for upholding their aspirations for a prosperous and democratic nation.


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