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Indonesia’s next president: The apparently anointed president finds himself in a tough scrap

Indonesia’s next president: The apparently anointed president finds himself in a tough scrap

Jun 21st 2014 | JAKARTA | From the print edition

DURING a recent televised debate between the two men vying to become Indonesia’s next president, Prabowo Subianto strode across the set to hug his startled rival, Joko Widodo. A theatrical gesture meant to convince viewers that even a fiery-tempered former special-forces general has a softer side, it was still a striking show of civility in a race that has turned much nastier since it narrowed to a two-way contest.

Since the start of the campaign on June 3rd (the vote is due on July 9th), both camps have complained to the police about smears, or “black” campaigns. Mr Joko, the governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, has had to counter claims that he is a closet Christian—a potentially damaging charge in a largely Muslim country. He has appeared alongside Islamic preachers and circulated pictures of himself on the haj to Mecca.

r Prabowo, a former son-in-law to Suharto, Indonesia’s late dictator, has long been dogged by questions about his human-rights record. He was dismissed from the army for his role in the abduction of pro-democracy activists in the late 1990s. Voters were reminded of this recently when a letter from the army’s disciplinary council surfaced online; it recommended that he be cashiered. Now Mr Prabowo’s team has denounced as slander claims by Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, a former intelligence chief, once Mr Prabowo’s commanding officer, but now in Mr Joko’s camp, that their man is a “psychopath”.

It is not surprising that the gloves have come off. Mr Joko—usually known as Jokowi—is still ahead, but in several recent polls his lead has narrowed from 20 points not so long ago to single digits. Mr Prabowo’s campaign, bankrolled by his billionaire brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, is formidably effective. And he is backed by two tycoons whose television channels are watched by about half the country’s viewers.

Jokowi’s creditable performance in the first of five televised debates on June 9th may have stabilised his ratings. Many observers had expected the soft-spoken Jakarta governor to take a beating from Mr Prabowo, a fluent orator. But Jokowi was well prepared and ably assisted by his vice-presidential running mate, Jusuf Kalla, who landed some punches during a lively exchange about human rights.

Even without Mr Kalla there in the second debate on June 15th, Jokowi parried Mr Prabowo’s attempts to portray him as a puppet of foreign capitalists. Admitting a “neo-liberal” taste for free-market economics is political suicide in Indonesia. Jokowi just about managed to sound enough of an economic nationalist to appease the voters without irreparably alienating foreign investors. Still, Mr Prabowo did much better than in the first debate.

A whiff of panic is discernible in the Jokowi camp, baffled as to why their man’s lead has been eroding so much, among young voters especially. And many observers are for the first time having to contemplate what a Prabowo presidency might mean for Indonesia.

Mr Prabowo has made no secret of his desire to return the country to its original August 18th 1945 constitution—a document Marcus Mietzner of the Australian National University describes as a “dictator’s dream”. Among other things, reinstating it would mean removing the checks on presidential power introduced after the overthrow of Suharto in 1998. Should he become president, Mr Prabowo might not be able to accomplish this. But, merely by trying, he could cause Indonesia’s young democracy enormous harm.

 

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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