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Subianto: Ex-general leading Indonesia presidency race

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Jakarta—Prabowo Subianto is accused of rights abuses while serving as a military chief during Indonesia’s dying days of the Suharto dictatorship a generation ago, but is now the favourite to win next week’s presidential election.

The Indonesian defense minister has opened a wide lead in polls owing to his vast wealth, nationalist verve in populist speeches and strongman credentials as chief of the influential military.

“At 18, I signed a vow, I was ready to die for the people and the nation. I have not revoked the vow. I am ready if God summons me,” the front-runner told a campaign rally last month, touting his military service.

NGOs and former army bosses have accused him of ordering the abduction of democracy activists at the end of Suharto’s rule in the late 1990s. He also remains accused of ties to the Suharto family as an ex-husband of one of the dictator’s daughters.

But the 72-year-old candidate has rehabilitated his image—as a “cute grandpa” who dances on social media—in a bid to lead the world’s third-biggest democracy and replace his former rival Joko Widodo.

While Subianto is promising more of Widodo’s economic development, the prospect of his presidency is causing alarm among rights groups that democratic gains made since the end of authoritarian rule could be rolled back.

“I am still concerned that Prabowo—fully backed up by Jokowi—could roll back reforms achieved with tears and blood of my fellow student activists,” said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, using the current president’s nickname.

“This could be the end of our hard-won freedom,” he added.

Subianto has amassed a 20-point lead over his two opponents at around 46 percent, according to several polls, after picking Widodo’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as his running mate.

Analysts say Subianto’s chances are being helped by Widodo’s popularity and support, as well as younger Indonesians—more than half of nearly 205 million eligible voters—who did not come of age under Suharto.

People over 40 are “more careful” when considering voting for Subianto, Alexander Arifianto, senior fellow of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told AFP.

“There is a gap between voters.”

For Subianto, victory would cap a decades-long battle to win high office in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

In 2004 he failed to become the presidential candidate of the Golkar party, Suharto’s former political vehicle.

He ran for vice president in 2009 with ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who failed to win. He would lose the next two presidential elections to Widodo.

Subianto was born in 1951 to a wealthy family and a father who served as finance and trade minister, while his grandfather established the country’s first state-owned bank.

After living in Switzerland and England as a child, he returned to Indonesia in 1970 and joined the military.

He married one of Suharto’s daughters, Siti Hediati Hariyadi, in 1983. They have since divorced.

Between 1997 and 1998, when some of the kidnappings of activists took place, Subianto led the elite army force known as Kopassus, used by Jakarta for special operations aimed at tamping down internal unrest.

More than a dozen activists remain missing and feared dead, and witnesses accuse his military unit of committing atrocities in East Timor.

He was dismissed from the military in 1998 over the abductions but was never charged, and went into voluntary exile in Jordan.

On his return several years later, he launched a business career with interests in palm oil and energy before jumping into politics.

Indonesian ally the United States once refused a visa over his rights record and he was also reportedly included on a visa blacklist in Australia before the 2014 election.

But he has since been allowed to visit Canberra and Washington, and has in turn hosted his American and Australian counterparts. AFP


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