Prabowo Subianto’s campaign for president in Indonesia is half-hearted

Apr 04, 2019

THE CROWD at the University of the Republic of Indonesia in the city of Bandung surges towards the stage in anticipation. Then, to whoops and applause, Prabowo Subianto appears, sporting sunglasses and a traditional peci—a sort of small, black fez. After a prayer, the presidential candidate delivers a fiery speech, full of indignation. Indonesia, he says, lags behind neighbouring countries on all kinds of measures, from literacy rates to the performance of its national football team. He blames corruption and foreigners: “If we are weak, we are going to be stomped upon by other nations.”

In the campaign for presidential and legislative elections on April 17th, Mr Prabowo is selling himself as the antidote to such weakness. The retired three-star general trades on his reputation for toughness, a stark contrast to his opponent, incumbent president Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, who nurtures a man-of-the-people persona. Mr Prabowo’s image is not just a branding exercise. He is accused of committing various human-rights abuses during his military career, including the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists. He was certainly a loyal defender of his father-in-law, Suharto, a strongman whose 30-year rule ended in 1998. That is a plus for many of his supporters, who yearn for a strong government. Naufal Ubaidillah, a student at...

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