Radio Australia July 16, 2008 -transcript-
In the same week that a major report on Indonesian military involvement in human rights abuses in East Timor, another former Indonesian military commander has announced his candidacy for next year’s presidential election.
Both Prabowo Subianto and the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, entered Indonesia’s Military Academy at the same time, and both became three-star generals within a month of each other. But that where many of the similarities end.
Presenter: Adam Connors Speakers: Robert Gelbard, former United States ambassador to Indonesia and current foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama; Marzuki Darusman, for Indonesian attorney-general; Professor Ronald Palmer, former ambasssador and emeritus professor George Washington University
CONNORS: The former army special forces chief and son-in-law of the the late former president Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, declared his run for the presidency on Saturday , representing the Gerindra Party. The party could be in a bit of trouble, with Gerindra’s vice-president, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, having been detained in Jakarta since June 19 — a suspect in the 2004 murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib. Prabowo helped Muchdi push through the ranks of Indonesia’s military in the 1980s and 90s, with Muchdi succeeding him as the Kopassus special forces commander in 1998. The former United States ambassador to Indonesia and current foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, Robert Gelbard, says investigations into Muchdi could be the beginning of something wider.
GELBARD: Dealing with people like Prabowo and Wiranto are really the next steps.
CONNORS: Muchdi and Prabowo served together, with former General Wiranto, overseeing East Timor and Indonesia’s Papua, as well as other hotspots, throughout the 1980 and 90s. Former ambassador Gelbard is not shy in expressing his feelings about seeing Prabowo and Wiranto now remaking themselves as politicians.
GELBARD: There were always people who, as they saw Suharto getting older, imagined themselves as the potential successor. Wiranto certainly saw himself in that role. What impresses me, in fact astonishes me, is that Prabowo would think that he could come back at tthis point after alll the horrors that he was behind.
CONNORS: On May 12, 1998, six university students were murdered in what was to begin a chain of events leading directly to the fall of the Suharto regime. The killings were followed on May 13 by thug-inspired rioting, looting, arson and the raping of perhaps hundreds of Chinese girls and women. A Joint Fact-Finding Team, the TGPF, found the May riots were orchestrated by Lieutenant-General Prabowo.
The chair of the fact-finding team was Marzuki Darusman, who is now a former Indonesian attorney-general.
DARUSMAN: There were some views that this was of course linked to the so-called competition between Mr Wiranto and Mr Prabowo.
CONNORS: So you’re saying that Wiranto commissioned the investigation to some extent?
DARUSMAN: Yes. The Habibi government at that time. The results were accepted in the general sense that massive or systematic abuse on women of Chinese descent took place on a scale. That [ruling] was clearly accepted by the president at that time. But then there was this changeover to the new government which then did not immediately address this matter because there was a number of immediate issues to take up. So very now and then this has been taken up, brought to the attention of the government.
CONNORS: Prabowo has therefore never faced a court over the issue.
Former ambassador Gelbard.
GELBARD: Prabowo certainly is somebody who is perhaps the greatest violator of human rights in contemporary times among the Indonesian military. His deeds in the late 90s before democracy took hold, were shocking, even by TNI standards — involving extraordinary human rights violations, particularly in 1998. It is certainly for this reason that he has been denied an American visa for life. And it is quite remarkable, in terms of his own ego, that he would now put himself forth as a candidate for the presidency.
CONNORS: The man who penned a definitive accound of the jostle between the generals in the 1980s and 90s, Professor Ronald Palmer, is also pessimistic about Prabowo’s chances.
PALMER: It’s my sense that Prabowo relates more to the things that were going on in the past. Not many of those things are things that are attractive to contemporary people.
CONNORS: With the Gerindra Party’s Muchdi facing trial — the first in Indonesia’s history for a former high-ranking military official — there may well be more for this race to run.