Muninggar Sri Saraswati
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Presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto on Friday expressed optimism that his past human rights record while he was in the Army would not get in the way of his bid for the nation’s top slot this year.
Prabowo, then a lieutenant general in the Kostrad elite army force, was dismissed from the military after the fall of his then father-in-law, Suharto, in 1998 after a military council found him guilty of involvement in the kidnappingG of pro-democracy activists during the New Order era.
Many have also accused him of having masterminded violent anti-Chinese riots early in 1998 and of serious human rights abuse while serving in East Timor, while the former Portuguese territory was under Indonesia, but none of the accusations have so far been proven in court.
“My conscience is clear, I took responsibility. I consider myself a fighter, I consider myself an officer,” Prabowo, 57, told foreign journalists during a lunch of the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club.
He said that as government changes, actions could be interpreted differently . What would have been acceptable under one rule could become unacceptable under another government.
Prabowo, who usually shuns the press, said that he had assumed responsibility over the kidnapping of the pro-democracy activists but said once again that times had now changed.
“You can see now that many of the kidnapping victims have become members of my party,” Prabowo said.
Prabowo is a key patron of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, and has said that he will be running for the presidency in the July election with a ticket of the party.
He cited Pius Lustrilanang, Desmon Mahesa and Haryanto Taslam, who were once among the activists his men had kidnapped but are now active Gerindra members.
Prabowo said that after the fall of Suharto in May 1998, he was an easy target for his enemies. “I was 47 years old, a son-in-law of President Suharto and people saw me as his potential successor,” he said.
In his presidential bid, Prabowo said that he had the financial support of his own brother, entrepreneur Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, who has become his main campaign financier.
He said that if he became president, he would rein in the free market and bank on agriculture to alleviate poverty.
The country needed “double digit growth” to free itself from the shackles of poverty, Prabowo said, adding that the current market-friendly government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had failed to reach that.
Prabowo also said he is still maintaining good relations with Suharto’s family, despite his divorce from Suharto’s daughter. “I have never denied that I am Suharto’s man. He is the one who made me a lieutenant general.”
Photo: Beawiharta, Reuters