Prabowo: Baby-Faced Grandpa Or Autocrat In Waiting?

(MENAFN- Asia Times) Ambitious and mercurial, with a dark past, former army general Prabowo Subianto has spent a lifetime vying for the ultimate prize in Indonesian politics. Now, with a large lead in the latest polls ahead of this week's election, it looks as though the presidency is finally within his grasp .

So, who is Prabowo and how will he change Indonesia if he wins?

Rapid rise and fall through the military ranks

Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo is a true Indonesian blueblood. His family claims to be descended from national hero Diponegoro , a prince of the Mataram sultanate who led the Java War rebellion against Dutch colonial forces in the 19th century.

Prabowo's grandfather was the founder of Indonesia's first state bank and a prominent member of Indonesia's independence movement. His father was a leading economist who served as minister of finance, minister of trade and minister for research in the government. His brother is a wealthy tycoon.

Prabowo (standing right) with his siblings and grandparents. Wikimedia Commons

Prabowo, too, has long sought national prominence. An ambitious military officer serving mostly in the Special Forces (Kopassus), his marriage to a daughter of the authoritarian former president, Suharto, fast-tracked his career. Prabowo rose to the rank of lieutenant general and, finally, the key position of commander of the powerful Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) in the capital, Jakarta.

As Suharto's regime began to falter amid the financial crisis of 1997, Prabowo became involved in covert operations to defend Soeharto's army-backed and repressive New Order regime against its critics.

Under his leadership, the Special Forces'“Rose Brigade” was accused of abducting and torturing more than 20 student protesters, 13 of whom are still missing, presumed dead. Prabowo has admitted to the abductions but denies being involved in any killings.

Prabowo never faced trial, although several of his men were tried and convicted. The allegations against him meant he was, for years, denied a visa to enter the US.

Prabowo also denies a wide range of earlier accusations relating to human rights abuses committed by Special Forces under his command in East Timor and Papua, including alleged torture and killings.

He also denies accusations he was involved in engineering the violent rioting in the capital in 1998 that contributed to the collapse of his father-in-law's regime, likely the result of an internal military struggle to become Soeharto's successor . It seems Prabowo hoped to climb high amid the chaos at the time.

After Soeharto resigned in May 1998, his newly installed successor, B J Habibie, refused Prabowo's request to be made head of the army, instead effectively demoting him. Prabowo is said to have responded by arming himself with a pistol and driving to the palace with truckloads of soldiers , but was stopped outside the president's office.


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