The only thing to expect in the short-term from Joko Widodo’s election as Indonesia’s seventh president is uncertainty, largely because the losing contestant, Prabowo Subianto, seems incapable of conceding defeat.
Have you ever heard of D’Artagnan complex? Best known as a character from The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan was a real life French nobleman and soldier, who in 1667 rose to the position of Captaine Lieutenant of the Musketeers of the Guard (the elite fighting unit of the French monarchy). He was second only to the king in military rank and served under two kings. In fiction, D’Artagnan became known as the leader of three gallant musketeers – Athos, Porthos and Aramis – yet he was not counted among the heroic trio.
What does this have to do with Indonesia? Nothing, apart from a tenuous link to Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, the architect of the modern Indonesian economy and also the father of Prabowo Subianto.
The late Indonesian journalist and historian Rosihan Anwar in 2001 quipped that Sumitro, who served as a minister under both founding president Sukarno and authoritarian president Suharto, suffered from D’Artagnan complex, always believing himself to be better than those around him. Sumitro’s dissatisfaction prompted him in the late 1950s to support anti-Sukarno rebellions funded by the CIA. When these revolts failed, Sumitro in 1958 went into exile with his family. They did not return to Indonesia until 1968, when Suharto had consolidated power.
Those who know the family say that Sumitro instilled in Prabowo from a young age the belief that he was destined to become a future leader of Indonesia. After all, their impressive lineage dates back to Javanese sultans. The surest path to the presidency was the military, so Prabowo in 1970 entered the Military Academy. His younger brother, Hashim, needed little encouragement to go into business.
Prabowo became one of the fastest-rising stars of the Indonesian Armed Forces, his 1983 marriage to Suharto’s middle daughter Titiek helping his advancement and, later, Hashim’s business fortunes. Prabowo attended military training courses in the US and Germany, where his intelligence and his fluency in English impressed many. He became one of Suharto’s youngest three-star generals, but it seemed that Suharto was more intent on grooming his eldest daughter, Tutut, for the presidency. Everything came crashing down in May 1998 when the military and political elite abandoned Suharto amid mass protests fuelled by a devastating financial crisis.
In a case of “like father, like son”, Prabowo found himself going into self-imposed exile, after he was discharged from the military in August 1998 for abductions of civilians and insubordination. At that time, he lacked sufficient support to have had any chance of taking power. He always insists he would never have attempted a coup. In 2009, he told an Australian interviewer: “Many of my colleagues … accused me of not being brave enough. You know some of my foreign friends, foreign generals, when I stepped down, they said Prabowo you’re stupid! Why didn’t you take over? And I said No, no I believe in Constitution you know and I want to uphold my Constitution. That’s my oath. Come on Prabowo, once you’re in power write your own Constitution.”
Hashim’s Tirtamas Group, valued at several billion dollars before the crisis, was severely dented. He rebuilt some of his fortune, partly by selling a Kazakhstan oil field for $1.9 billion in 2007. Last year, Hashim’s net worth was put at $700 million by Forbes magazine.
In April 2004, Prabowo took his first shot at the presidency, joining Golkar Party’s inaugural presidential convention. There were four other contenders: Golkar kingpin Akbar Tandjung, tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, ex-general Wiranto and media magnate Surya Paloh. Prabowo finished last, with just 39 of 547 votes. He didn’t cry foul play. Instead, he hired some American political consultants, David Axelrod and Alex Castellanos, to help bolster his image and strategy.
To establish some grassroots appeal, Prabowo became chairman of the Indonesian Farmers Association, the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association and the Indonesian Traditional Market Traders Association. In 2008, his associates formed the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) to nominate Prabowo for the presidency in 2009. After Gerindra won only 4.6% of votes in that year’s general election, Prabowo became Megawati Sukarnoputri’s running mate for the presidential election, which they lost to the incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The loss was appealed at the Constitutional Court, which rejected Megawati’s claim of massive vote fraud.
By the time of the April 2014 general election, Prabowo had grown in stature. He was making fiery nationalistic speeches, blaming Indonesia’s economic woes on foreigners profiting from the country’s natural resources. Gerindra came third in the election with 11.81% of the vote. This was enough for Prabowo to form a coalition of six parties backing him for the July 9 presidential election. He was supremely confident of victory and said “losing is not an option”. He even told voters they could accept bribes, provided they voted for him. There was also an effective smear campaign against Joko Widodo, resulting in a terribly divisive election.
When quick count results showed that Jokowi had won by about 5%, Prabowo said he would wait for the General Elections Commission (KPU) to announce the official result on July 22. A few hours before the KPU declared Jokowi the winner with 53.15% of the vote, Prabowo declared he was withdrawing from the election because of “massive cheating”.
He is now challenging the result at the Constitutional Court, which is expected to reject his vague and error-ridden lawsuit. Yet Prabowo won’t go quietly. Members of his coalition, which will control 63% of seats in the House come October, have vowed to form a special committee of inquiry into the alleged cheating. This opposition bloc – if it holds together – could also introduce its own legislation.
Rising to Destiny?
Prabowo’s harshest critics have branded him a delusional megalomaniac with narcissistic personality disorder. In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Maria Ressa in July, Prabowo offered some insight into his psyche. Asked how he defined himself, he replied: “Have you ever read Paolo Coelho? Have you ever read The Warrior of the Light? I find myself in that book. If you want to understand me, then you have to read that book.”
Warrior of the Light, A Manual is a turgid volume of inspirational aphorisms, all about “rising to your destiny”. One particularly ripe passage reads: “The moment that he begins to walk along it, the warrior of light recognises the Path. Each stone, each bend cries welcome to him. He identifies with the mountains and the streams, he sees something of his own soul in the plants and the animals and the birds of the field. Then, accepting the help of God and of God’s Signs, he allows his Personal Legend to guide him towards the tasks that life has reserved for him.”
And there’s this gem: “Do not be ashamed to make a temporary withdrawal from the field if you see that your enemy is stronger than you; it is not winning or losing a single battle that matters, but how the war ends.”
The big question now is whether Prabowo can keep his coalition intact. Golkar has never been in opposition, as there is little money to be made there. A hostile parliament could block Jokowi’s policies and even impeach him. Erratic Muslim cleric Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid was impeached and sacked as president in 2001, although he made the “error” of upsetting the military and most of the political elite. Jokowi will not be so erratic.
Some of Prabowo’s supporters, including Islamic extremists, are using a members-only Facebook group to call for the “destruction” of Jokowi, branding him a threat to Indonesia and Islam. They quote fake news and label Jokowi as Chinese, a monkey, a communist, a Zionist, a Christian, a cheat, and a puppet of the West and of China. Prabowo has publicly called on his supporters to avoid violence, but the online threats continue.
Prabowo’s achievement in coming so close to victory was amazing. He can now either take a step back and try again in 2019, or he can carry on with his petulant rants and leave Indonesia facing an uncertain future. Or his coalition partners may simply abandon him.
As for Jokowi, it will be interesting to see if his planned “mental revolution” can be achieved: if police, bureaucrats and politicians will stop taking bribes; if people will stop electing crooked politicians; if his cabinet will be partly crowd-sourced or based mostly on political compromises. Let’s hope he is given a fair chance to implement his ideas and heal social rifts. All for one nation and one nation for all.
One passage that Prabowo may like to consider from the Coelho book is: “The Warrior of the Light knows how to lose… He accepts defeat as defeat and does not try to make a victory out of it.”