Indonesia’s Prabowo Thunders On

As an example of how far failed presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s stock has fallen, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, the electoral court of appeal, on Wednesday spent about as much time criticizing the grammar of his appeal against his loss at the polls on July 9 as it did on his arguments. While the court is to reconvene on August 8 to hear further testimony, it was clear that, as has been expected since the July election, he has no chance. A final decision is due by August 22.

Prabowo until recently was one of the most feared people in the country. A former Army Special Forces commander cashiered at the end of the Suharto reign for kidnapping activists after losing out in a power struggle with another general, his then-marriage to Suharto’s daughter could not save him.

This time around, after spending more than a decade rehabilitating his image, he lost by as many as 8 million votes. He has refused to accept the verdict, raising concerns over what he might do. At one point, his followers surrounded the court, a clear bid at intimidation. His past as a ruthless officer is always lurking in the background but he commands no troops and has pledged to use the courts to overturn the verdict.

Prabowo and his brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, one of Indonesia’s richest men, are said to have poured US$400 million into his race for president beginning as early as 2009 and running what is regarded as the most virulent and negative campaign in Indonesian history. He or is proxies tried to identify the winner, Bangkok Gov. Joko Widodo, as a secret half-Chinese, a Christian, possibly a communist and a pawn of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) head Megawati Sukarnoputri.

He came too close to comfort, losing to Jokowi, as Joko is known, by 46.83 percent to 53.17 percent. Only a last-minute spurt on Jokowi’s part saved the country from being ruled by a man who has been described as irrational by generals who served with him and opposed his presidential run.

In the wake of the election, he has made wild charges, for instance telling the court yesterday that “North Korean” levels of fraud had robbed him of the presidency. He has said that hackers invaded the Elections Commission’s website and switched masses of votes to Jokowi from him, saying a true count would have made him the winner with 50.25 percent of the vote and that he could produce tens of thousands of witnesses to substantiate his claims.

“This only happens in a totalitarian nation, even in North Korea such things do not happen,” Prabowo said. “Votes [for Jokowi] reached 100 percent [in some areas]. That’s unbelievable.”

The outcome of this, however, is that Prabowo risks becoming a figure of ridicule for his wild claims. Internet responses to his antics mostly deride him. He came out of the election with a six-party opposition coalition nominally controlling nearly two-thirds of the incoming House of Representatives. But the air started to go out of the coalition almost before the votes were counted, and it remains to be seen how much mischief he can cause, if any.

He has certainly spent much of the family fortune on a goal he is said to have desired since he was a teenager. American campaign consultants were recruited, including at least one visit from Bill Clinton’s campaign guru James Carville several months ago. He ran a clever TV campaign that had him hobnobbing with farmers and fishermen. He crafted an image of a strong nationalist, invoking the image of founding president Sukarno and railing against foreign interests.

He also worked backrooms to convince Indonesia that he was now a responsible and sober businessman and not a human rights abuser and wild card. He is said to have a net worth of US$160 million, derived from international business dealings including shares in 26 companies, three farms and other assets declared to the General Elections Commission. His brother is worth much more.

But all that work seems to have been undone by his performance since the polls closed, confirming for many the talk among some anti-Prabowo generals that he was unstable and could not control his temper. Some now call him an outright failure.

“If his life's work was to be president of Indonesia, as it has been, then he was unable to either stage a coup, as he was rumored to have considered in 1998 (at the fall of Suharto) or get elected to anything in three successive tries,” a longtime western observer told Asia Sentinel. “The sobering thing is that he was able to get nearly 47 percent of the vote and could well have won if Jokowi hadn't had a last minute surge.” (Prabowo ran in 2004 and 2009, falling far short both times.)

Prabowo’s support was also widespread including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, Muslim parties and the country’s largest party, Golkar, headed by coal tycoon Aburizal Bakrie.

“He almost swift-boated Jokowi,” the source said, referring to the negative campaign.

In the court hearing, Prabowo said that “The fate of Indonesia is in this court. We agree to a democratic process. We will respect any decision as long as the process is honest.” But the court largely seemed to ignore his arguments, seemingly more interested in making sure his application was free from typographical errors. He was told to resubmit his legal challenge in “good Indonesian language” and to provide specific evidence to substantiate each of the claims made therein. It was humiliating.

According to the website Detik.com, Justice Aswanto told him “Please be concrete. Don’t use vague sentences. Please use sentences with a single meaning so we can understand your problem.”

Another court judge, Wahiduddin Adams, was quoted as saying Prabowo hadn’t provided details for his argument. “The applicant said there was a flawed vote-counting process, but he did not elaborate beyond that,” Wahiduddin said. “Every claim presented should be supported by a convincing and sufficient argument.”

The next hearing is to be held on Friday to hear testimony from government election bodies and from Prabowo’s witnesses. It appears to be an afterthought, and that Prabowo, so long a dominant figure in Indonesian politics, is finished. It now remains for Jokowi to get on with the business of running the country, which he will do with an inauguration October 20.