Plus ça change, Indonesia-style

Jokowi won through in the end in the Indonesian presidential election earlier this year, and he’s now the country’s seventh president. But just how much difference would it really have made if it had been the other guy, Prabowo, who won?

In the run up to the election I was asked to write an article exploring the historical contexts for Asia House. Here’s the start of the piece; you can follow the link at the bottom to read the rest on the Asia House website:

On 19 May 2014 a political event took place in Rumah Polonia, a stately, colonial-style villa on Jalan Cipinang Cempedak in Jakarta.

Amongst the many people present were two particularly notable figures – Prabowo Subianto and Amien Rais. The first man was there to make a formal declaration of his candidacy for the post of Indonesian president along with his running mate, Hatta Rajasa. Amien Rais, meanwhile, was there to lend the would-be premier his enthusiastic support. When it came time to give his speech, Rais invoked no less that Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno – one of whose several wives had once occupied Rumah Polonia.

“I’m not an expert at reading people’s faces,” Rais said, “but from the side Pak Prabowo looks like Bung Karno [the way Indonesians often refer to Sukarno]…”

For anyone who remembered events in the same city exactly 16 years earlier, this was a peculiar moment. Look at the newsreel footage from May 1998 covering the protests, riots, and high political drama that finally brought to an end the 32-year authoritarian rule of Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, and you’ll spot the familiar faces of Prabowo and Amien Rais.

There is Rais – looking little different, still impish and softly spoken, in the thick of the demonstrating students, the foremost political figure in the burgeoning protest movement that was demanding that Suharto’s aged New Order regime be swept away in the name of democratic reform.

And there’s Prabowo – much more boyish that the solid, jowly figure of today, in uniform, at that time head of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) and son-in-law of the embattled dictator, already rumoured to have been involved in the military’s most brutal attempts to stamp out the reform movement…

Read the full article here.

© Tim Hannigan 2014

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