Former General with ties to past dictatorship confirmed as Indonesia’s next President

Prabowo Subianto was confirmed the victor of last month's presidential election over two former governors who have vowed to contest the result in court.

March 21, 2024 02:40 am | Updated 06:54 am IST - JAKARTA, Indonesia

Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto waves at supporters as he delivers a speech after winning the Feb. 14 election in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto waves at supporters as he delivers a speech after winning the Feb. 14 election in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces general with ties to Indonesia's current President and past dictatorship, was confirmed the victor of last month's presidential election over two former governors who have vowed to contest the result in court.

Mr. Subianto won 58.6% of the votes, while former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan received 24.9% and former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo got 16.5%, the General Election Commission said Wednesday after the official counting was completed.

In Indonesia, election disputes can be registered with the Constitutional Court during the three days that follow the announcement of official results.

The two other candidates have alleged fraud and irregularities in the election process, such as the vice presidential candidacy of President Joko Widodo’s son. The popular outgoing president is serving his second term and could not run again, but his son's candidacy is seen as a sign of his tacit backing for Subianto.

Widodo's son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is 37 but became Subianto's running mate after the Constitutional Court made an exception to the minimum age requirement of 40 for candidates. The Constitutional Court's chief justice, who is Widodo’s brother-in-law, was then removed by an ethics panel for failing to recuse himself and for making last-minute changes to the election candidacy requirements.

Mr. Subianto, who is Widodo’s defense minister, had claimed victory on election day after unofficial tallies showed he was winning nearly 60% of the votes.

Editorial | A strongman at the helm: On Indonesia’s presidential election

Voter turnout for the Feb. 14 election in the world’s third-largest democracy was about 80%, the commission said.

Mr. Subianto won in 36 of 38 provinces and received 96.2 million votes compared to 40.9 million for Baswedan, the second-place finisher, who won in two provinces.

Mr. Baswedan, the former head of an Islamic university, won a massive majority in the conservative westernmost province of Aceh. His running mate was Muhaimin Iskandar, whose Islam-based National Awakening Party has strong ties with Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization.

Mr. Pranowo, the candidate of the governing Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, received 27 million votes and did not win any provinces.

Both Mr. Baswedan and Mr. Pranowo have refused to concede and said they plan to challenge the official results in the Constitutional Court.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a prominent lawyer who represents Mr. Pranowo and his running mate, Mohammad Mahfud MD, said election irregularities occurred before, during and after the polls.

Mr. Widodo has dismissed their fraud allegations and any manipulation of the judiciary or favoring of a particular pair of candidates, saying the election process was watched by many people, including representatives of the candidates, the election supervisory agency and security personnel.

“Layered supervision like this would eliminate possible fraud,” Widodo told reporters last month. “Don’t scream fraud. We have mechanisms to solve the fraud. If you have evidence, take it to the Election Supervisory Agency, if you have evidence, challenge it to the Constitutional Court.”

The campaign teams of both Mr. Baswedan and Mr. Pranowo said they would provide evidence for their claims.

Hasto Kristiyanto, the secretary-general of the party that nominated Pranowo, said election irregularities were enforced from the top down, including hefty social aid in the middle of an election that was far bigger than the amount during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a prominent lawyer who represents Pranowo and his running mate Mohammad Mahfud, said his team has had difficulty getting witnesses to testify in court due to intimidation by authorities. He acknowledged that successfully challenging the election result with such a wide official margin of victory will be difficult.

The ethics panel that removed Anwar Usman as the court’s chief justice allowed him to remain on the court under certain conditions, including banning him from involvement when the court adjudicates election disputes this year.

That means any such cases brought to the Constitutional Court would be decided by eight justices instead of the full nine-member court.

The new president will be inaugurated on Oct. 20 and will have to appoint a Cabinet within two weeks.

Subianto’s campaign highlighted the Widodo administration’s progress in reducing poverty and vowed to continue the modernization agenda that has brought rapid growth and vaulted Indonesia into the ranks of middle-income countries.

But other than promising continuity, Subianto has laid out few concrete plans for his own presidency, leaving observers uncertain about what his election will mean for the country’s growth and its still-maturing democracy.

Subianto lost two previous presidential elections to Widodo, and the Constitutional Court rejected his bids to overturn each of those results because of unfounded fraud allegations. This time, Subianto embraced the popular leader to run as his heir, even choosing Widodo’s son as his running mate, a choice that raised worries about an emerging dynastic rule in Indonesia’s 25-year-old democracy.

Their background and personalities are a sharp contrast. Subianto is known for his temper, unease with criticism, and fiery speeches. The soft-spoken Widodo has rarely shown anger in public.

Mr. Subianto comes from one of the country’s wealthiest families and his father was an influential politician who was a government minister under both the dictator Suharto and the country’s first president, Sukarno. Widodo rose to the presidency from a common background and as president often mingled with working-class crowds.

Questions also are still unanswered about Subianto’s alleged links to torture, disappearances and other human rights abuses in the final years of the brutal Suharto dictatorship, in which he served as a special forces lieutenant general.

It’s uncertain how Subianto will respond to political dissent, street protests and critical journalism, as many activists see his links to the Suharto regime as a threat.

Mr. Subianto was expelled by the army over accusations that he played a role in the kidnappings and torture of activists and other abuses. He never faced a trial and vehemently denies any involvement, although several of his men were tried and convicted.

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