Suharto-era general to win Indonesia’s presidency, unofficial counts show

Prabowo Subianto and his running mate, the incumbent president’s oldest son, have avoided a runoff vote in June.
By Arie Firdaus for BenarNews
2024.02.14
Jakarta
Suharto-era general to win Indonesia’s presidency, unofficial counts show Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (L) delivers a speech as running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, listens during a gathering with supporters and members of their campaign team in Jakarta, Feb. 14, 2024.
Photo: RFA

UPDATED at 10:02 A.M. ET on 02-15-2024

Indonesians elected Prabowo Subianto as their president by a wide margin on Wednesday, according to projections by reliable exit polls, as the former army general rode on the coattails of the extraordinarily popular incumbent, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The 72-year-old defense minister’s almost guaranteed victory comes at the end of a fractious voting season marred by accusations of dynasticism, eligibility, nepotism, and partisanship. His running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is the eldest son of Jokowi, the man who twice before had defeated Prabowo in his quest for the presidency of Southeast Asia’s largest nation.

The Prabowo-Gibran ticket won by a big enough margin that the vote would not have to go to a runoff round in June, as had been anticipated as a possibility based on previous surveys in the final weeks before the vote.  

“All the calculations, all the survey agencies, including the ones that are on the side of the other candidates, show that the Prabowo-Gibran pair won in one round,” Prabowo said in a victory speech in Jakarta on Wednesday night. 

Unofficial figures by late night Wednesday showed that the defense minister had won 58% of the votes of the nearly 95% counted by independent pollster Indikator Politik at sample polling stations across the country.

His two rivals in the race to succeed Jokowi, former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan and former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo, respectively, had captured 25% and 17% of ballots cast, so-called “quick counts” at exit polls showed.

Indonesian Defense Minister and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto greets supporters from a car in Jakarta, Feb. 14, 2024. (Antara Foto/Erlangga Bregas Prakoso via Reuters)
Indonesian Defense Minister and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto greets supporters from a car in Jakarta, Feb. 14, 2024. (Antara Foto/Erlangga Bregas Prakoso via Reuters)

Prabowo addressed his supporters at a sports stadium in the Indonesian capital after he and Gibran made their way there to claim victory. En route, they waved from their vehicle with an open roof to supporters who had lined the roads to cheer them on.

Prabowo urged the crowd to stay humble.

“This victory must be a victory for all the Indonesian people …We will be the president and vice president for all the Indonesian people,” he said, referring to citizens of the Muslim-majority country.

Checkered human rights record

Yet some analysts warned that a Prabowo presidency would be a threat to the nation’s hard-won democracy because of his checkered human rights record during his past career as a special forces commander. 

Prabowo’s consistent message through the campaign was that he would continue with Jokowi’s current policies – including a multibillion dollar project to move the national capital from Jakarta to Borneo

Jokowi, who is barred from running for a third term, did not officially endorse any of the three presidential candidates, but it was generally viewed that he favored Prabowo and his son. 

Indonesian election officers count votes at the Kuala Lumpur World Trade Center, one of six such centers manned by 1,500 officials from neighboring Malaysia, Feb. 14, 2024. (S. Mahfuz/BenarNews)
Indonesian election officers count votes at the Kuala Lumpur World Trade Center, one of six such centers manned by 1,500 officials from neighboring Malaysia, Feb. 14, 2024. (S. Mahfuz/BenarNews)

Many political observers had noted that Jokowi would be a kingmaker. After all, his approval rating in early December was 76% – a stunningly high number for a two-term president reaching the end of his tenure.

As of Wednesday night, Jokowi had not commented on results reflected through exit polls.

The 2024 vote is only Indonesia’s fifth direct presidential election since transitioning to democracy in 1998.

During the victory speech on Wednesday night, local media reported that Prabowo also gave a shout out to his ex-wife, Siti Hediati Hariyadi, who is known as Titiek Soeharto, and is also a daughter of ex-President and dictator Suharto.

In his speech, Prabowo said he knew almost all of Indonesia’s presidents, including Suharto, Indonesia’s second president who ruled for 32 years before stepping down in 1998 amid the pro-democracy movement.

“I know the second president quite well too, why are you laughing? Don’t you believe it?” Prabowo joked about his former father-in-law, as the crowd got noisier, according to a report on the website of CNN Indonesia.

A 'brutal past'

It was under Suharto’s rule that Prabowo is accused of having committed human rights abuses.

Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch, did not believe a Prabowo presidency would be a good idea for Indonesia.

“That Prabowo Subianto has now found it politically advantageous to transform himself into an ostensible democrat does not change the very real prospect that he would revert to his brutal past should he manage to ascend to the presidency,” Roth, a visiting professor at Princeton University, said on X, formerly Twitter.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and Cyrus Network conduct a 'quick count' of votes in the Indonesian general election, at the CSIS office in Jakarta, Feb. 14, 2024. (Tria Dianti/BenarNews)
The Center for Strategic and International Studies and Cyrus Network conduct a 'quick count' of votes in the Indonesian general election, at the CSIS office in Jakarta, Feb. 14, 2024. (Tria Dianti/BenarNews)

A regional political analyst, Richard Heydarian of the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center, said Indonesia was voting into power a Philippine-style democracy.

“[W]here disinformation is endemic, strongmen can look ‘cute’ with [public relations] stunts, where human rights is taken for granted, and where a few self-styled dynasties, new and old, dominate a whole political system!” he posted on X.

In mentioning “cute,” he was referring to Prabowo, whose image makeover during the presidential campaign had earned him the nickname “gemoy,” meaning “cuddly” or “cute.” He didn’t say who “new dynasty referred to.”

A Jokowi dynasty?

For most of last year, Jokowi had been asked whether he was trying to build a political dynasty by promoting his family members and loyalists to government. He always denied it, of course.

And while he didn’t endorse the presidential ticket that included his son, over the past few months, he made several highly publicized appearances alongside Prabowo, often dining with him.  

Jokowi also had many up in arms when he said he had the right to campaign and pick sides, but later said he wouldn’t.

These weren’t the first controversies that the trio – the president, Gibran and Prabowo – were involved in.

A stunning Constitutional Court ruling in October revised the minimum age for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from 40 to any age for those who have served as regional heads.

An election official holds up a ballot paper during counting at a polling station after voting ended in Indonesia’s presidential and legislative elections in Banda Aceh, Aceh, Indonesia, Feb. 14, 2024. (Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP)
An election official holds up a ballot paper during counting at a polling station after voting ended in Indonesia’s presidential and legislative elections in Banda Aceh, Aceh, Indonesia, Feb. 14, 2024. (Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP)

The ruling would allow Jokowi’s eldest son, 36-year-old Gibran, to run for the posts if he so desired. Six days later, Prabowo announced that Gibran would be his running mate

The court’s chief justice during the ruling was Jokowi’s brother-in-law, Anwar Usman. He was dismissed from his post in November after being found guilty of violating the principles of impartiality, integrity and independence, in relation to the ruling.

Many critics and ordinary Indonesians slammed the court’s decision as nepotistic and questioned whether he was qualified to run for vice president. Jokowi continued to deny he had any role in either decision.

Back then, some analysts told BenarNews that Gibran’s nomination had not been a spontaneous decision but the culmination of calculated preparation that involved influencing the Constitutional Court.

For many observers the court ruling cemented what they had been speculating – that Jokowi, the first Indonesian president not from the military or political elite, was trying to build a political dynasty.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service. Sulthan Azzam in Padang contributed to this report.

Update made to the story's headline.

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