SBY Finds a Friend in Prabowo, but at What Price?

By webadmin on 06:44 pm May 31, 2012
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SP/Robertus Wardi

As Prabowo Subianto seeks the support of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a presidential run in 2014, his party is beginning to express its support for some of the president’s policies.

The Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), which has developed a reputation as one of the fiercest opposition parties, announced on Tuesday that it opposed an attempt by the House Representatives to question Yudhoyono over his decision to cut the jail term of convicted Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Leigh Corby.

Martin Hutabarat, chairman of Gerindra’s faction at the House, said granting Corby clemency was a correct decision based on humanitarian considerations.

“And granting clemency is the right of the president, so we don’t need to politicize it,” he said.

Yudhoyono granted clemency to Corby last week, cutting five years from her 20-year prison sentence. The decision has been met by a wave of criticism from lawmakers and civil society groups.

Gerindra’s support for the Corby clemency decision comes two weeks after the president held a special meeting with Prabowo in Bali.

There has been much speculation that the two retired Army generals negotiated a deal that would see Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party support Prabowo in the next presidential election.

Aleksius Jemadu, dean of the University of Pelita Harapan’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said Gerindra was known as a consistent opponent of the government’s policies, so it was quite a significant change for it to come out in support of Yudhoyono in the controversy surrounding the Corby clemency.

The president’s decision has been criticized by members of his ruling coalition.

“This must have something to do with Prabowo’s effort to get support from the Democratic Party in the next election. A political party can’t change its stance unless it gets something in return,” he said.

Yudhoyono sent a special invitation to Prabowo for a reunion of the Indonesian Armed Forces Academy’s graduating class of 1973, even though Prabowo graduated a year later, in Bali earlier this month. During the gathering, Yudhoyono took Prabowo aside for a private talk.

Officials from both parties have played down the meeting as a chat between two old friends, but others say a Democratic ticket featuring Prabowo could be possible.

With his Democratic Party struggling to produce a strong presidential candidate for 2014, Yudhoyono appears to be looking outside of the party for a possible successor, analysts say.

His meeting with Prabowo is seen as part of an effort to recruit a popular figurehead who could win the election.

“It must have been more than just a reunion of military academy alumni,” said Burhanuddin Muhtadi, from the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI). “Something must have been said about the 2014 election.”

Recent surveys show Prabowo trailing only Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), in terms of popularity.