New Poll Shows Short-Tempered Prabowo’s Rising Presidential Stock
John McBeth – Straits Times
Is Prabowo Subianto becoming an irresistible force two years out from the 2014 presidential election? It is certainly looking that way with one poll showing he would trounce incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono if an election was held tomorrow, and foreign governments starting to sit up and take notice.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) poll last month had 44 percent of respondents supporting the retired general, well ahead of the 18 percent who said they would vote for Yudhoyono, his military academy classmate, in a head-to-head race.
Still, for a polo player without a high-stepping political horse, the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) patron will have to wait until the end of the year before he knows whether Megawati Sukarnoputri will make another bid to regain power.
That is when the Indonesian Democrat Party-Struggle (PDI-P) leader has told friends that she will make a decision that may shape the outcome of the race, with Golkar’s Aburizal Bakrie the only candidate so far to formally announce his intention to run.
Prabowo is clearly encouraged by his growing popularity.
But he needs the support of PDI-P or another major backer if he is to get across the 20 percent threshold of parliamentary seats for a party or coalition of parties to nominate a presidential aspirant.
With Gerindra considered fortunate at this early stage to pick up even 8 percent of the vote, Prabowo may otherwise have to stitch together a coalition among some of the other smaller parties. It is an issue he will not talk about publicly. Not yet anyway.
While their numbers are by no means spectacular and could well reflect face recognition as much as anything, Prabowo and Megawati both consistently lead Bakrie in the court of public opinion as the election process gathers pace.
After two successive failures, in 2004 and 2009, Megawati may still fancy her chances against Bakrie, a wealthy tycoon with business and political baggage he is finding difficult to shake off even within his own divided party.
The only wild card is who Yudhoyono will seek to anoint as his successor.
Racked by corruption allegations and now a setback in the Jakarta gubernatorial election, the Democrats have no obvious candidates to replace a man still popular by world standards.
Sources close to Prabowo dismiss speculation of an alliance with Yudhoyono, saying relations between the two are “not warm” and the President would not risk annoying other military retirees with bad memories of president Suharto’s former son-in-law.
The CSIS poll seemed to point to a broad public longing for the sort of decisive leadership the notoriously short-tempered Prabowo offers in spades. So much so, in fact, that the Jakarta elite worries he will propel Indonesia back to its authoritarian past.
His recent speaking engagement in Singapore and a meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong are the first tangible sign that the rest of the region is beginning to pay attention.
The Australians and the Americans, both of whom have made it clear in the past they would deny Prabowo a visa because of his human rights record, are now facing the possibility they will have to accept what one diplomat calls “new political realities.”
Prabowo has been working hard to shake off the impression that he is anti-Chinese, a reputation stemming from the riots that broke out after Suharto’s fall in 1998, which targeted ethnic Chinese and were blamed on him. It is a charge he has always denied.
He may already be over that particular obstacle, given his financial support for PDI-P candidate and Solo mayor Joko Widodo and Gerindra-backed running mate, ethnic-Chinese Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, in their surprise first-round win in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections.
Indonesian Survey Institute exit polls showed Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese voted almost to a man for Widodo, whose commendable refusal to engage in primordial issues is one reason for his victory.
In the months before Suharto’s resignation, Prabowo was openly cultivating a coterie of “green” generals and Islamic community leaders as his power struggle with then army chief Wiranto gathered momentum.
In fact, it reached a point where Hashim Djojohadikusumo, his businessman brother and financier, angrily asked me why so many commentators thought Prabowo was a hardline Muslim, noting that he (Hashim) and their mother were Christians.
Looking back now, the people around Prabowo say that as self-serving as it may have been, the campaign probably saved him for a future career in politics after he was drummed out of the military for overseeing the abduction of pro-democracy activists.
He spent several years in self-exile in Jordan, as the guest of his friend, then crown prince and now King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, before making an unsuccessful bid for the Golkar presidential candidacy in 2004.
While his rivals will almost certainly ensure his past will come back to haunt him, it is unlikely to resonate with a hinterland electorate whose collective memory has faded and who crave a return to strong leadership.
Incumbent Jakarta governor Fauzi Bowo could still triumph in this month’s run-off, but it is tempting to see Widodo’s first-up win as a barometer of prevailing political sentiment, with him owing much of his success to a newly affluent middle class.
Reprinted courtesy of The Straits Times