Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

A former gene

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Prabowo Subianto during his 2014 presidential campaign.

  • Philippe Leblanc (View profile)Philippe Leblanc

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Former dictator Suharto's son-in-law and general removed from office in 1998 amid allegations of torture, kidnappings and human rights abuses, Prabowo Subianto, appears poised to be elected president of Indonesia in the elections on February 15.

The 72-year-old completely transformed and rehabilitated his image after being appointed Minister of Defense in 2019 , which propelled its popularity among young people.

The temperamental and fiery character who attempted to seize power in a coup in 1998 has given way to the jovial, cute and charismatic cat-loving grandfather. In Indonesia, the proportion of voters under 40 is close to 60%.

Prabowo's team presents it clearly ;a gentler way in order to convince undecided voters. This is a change from previous campaigns where we saw Prabowo, the populist nationalist, and Prabowo, the pro-Islamist, analyzes Ross Tapsell of the Australian National University.

In the most recent poll conducted from December 30 to January 6 by Indikator Politik, Prabowo received 45.8% of support, far ahead of his two opponents.

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To be elected president of the third largest democracy on the planet which counts more than 200 million voters, a candidate must obtain at least 50% of popular support.

Former political rival of the popular incumbent President Joko Widodo (nicknamed Jokowi), Prabowo received his tacit support.

His running mate is President Jokowi’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36 years old. Which leads some analysts to say that family dynasties are important and that political parties are losing their power in the Indonesian system.

Allegations of favoritism, collusion and interference in the legal process loom over the controversial decision to allow Gibran to be his running mate. Indonesia's Constitutional Court has agreed that the electoral law banning candidates under the age of 40 should be amended.

The court initially rejected the request, but reversed his decision later the same day after the personal intervention of the Chief Justice, who happens to be Gibran's brother-in-law.

The long-term question is whether the Constitutional Court and presidential policies have caused irreparable damage to democracy in Indonesia, Thomas Pepinsky of the Brookings Institution wrote on January 12 in his outlook for 2024.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Although Indonesia does not face an acute threat of a coup or suspension of democracy, the country faces a crisis of confidence in the rule of law. For many Indonesians, as for many foreign observers, this is not news. However, elite political maneuvering in the 2024 presidential election has once again highlighted the fragility of Indonesia's constitutional order, he continued.

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Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, with his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, eldest son of Indonesian President Joko Widodo and mayor of Surakarta, greet their Supporters as they arrive at the election commission headquarters to register for the presidential election in Jakarta, October 25, 2023.

Prabowo promises to continue Indonesia's development through infrastructure investment. This is the very essence of what we call Jokowinomics, after the outgoing president.

He is considered a far-right politician which has in the past relied on divisions and social cleavages to achieve its ends. He founded the Gerindra party, Greater Indonesia Party, in 2008.

Prabowo was accused of human rights violations during his time as commander of the Kopassus, a special unit of the Indonesian armed forces, under Suharto. He was also the son-in-law of the Indonesian dictator at that time.

Allegations have emerged of human rights abuses by Prabowo, including torture, regarding 20 abducted pro-democracy protesters, including 13 people who remain missing.

Due to his alleged role in these violations, Prabowo was discharged from the Indonesian army in 1998. He was even banned from entering the United States in 2000.

Human rights groups deplore the fact that the accusations against Prabowo are not subject to further discussion and media coverage.

The younger generation doesn't know much about what Prabowo did in Jakarta, East Timor and Papua. He was never held accountable for his actions.

A quote from Andreas Harsono, Human Rights Watch

He ran in Indonesia's presidential elections in 2014 and 2019, losing to Jokowi each time. Prabowo challenged the election results each time he lost and his protests even led to riots.

The February 15 elections will take place after a decade of erosion of Indonesia's fragile democracy under President Jokowi. Under his reign, a handful of oligarchs became rich, while human rights and freedoms were increasingly eroded.

The independence of some government institutions, including the anti-corruption commission, has also been eroded and laws to silence critics of the government have been adopted.

Whether Prabowo has changed or not, it does not bode well for Indonesia's democratic future, while it is likely that a new president with authoritarian ancestry will take office in conditions where his predecessor oversaw the takeover of formerly independent institutions, transformed the state apparatus into an instrument for pursuing political gains, and dramatically reduced the space for ;political opposition, analyzes Edward Aspinall of the Australian National University for the East Asia Forum.

The upcoming presidential elections will be the sixth since the fall of dictator Suharto.

According to the annual index of democracies published by the Economist Group, Indonesia came in 54th place in 2022, down two places from the previous year. The country is part of the group of imperfect democracies like Argentina, Colombia, Thailand… and the United States.

Philippe Leblanc is Asia correspondent for Radio-Canada.

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