Indonesia’s presumed new president pays tribute to strongman Suharto

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 10:01 AM

By Ananda Teresia

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s presumed new president Prabowo Subianto paid tribute to the nation’s past leaders during a triumphant victory speech on Wednesday, joking about his close ties to his ex-father-in-law and former authoritarian ruler, Suharto.

Addressing a sea of jubilant fans, the 72-year-old waxed lyrical about being carried in the arms of the nation’s founder Sukarno, and offered gags about massaging former leader Abdurrahman Wahid and lunching with Suharto, Indonesia’s second president.

“Regarding the second president, I know him quite well,” he said as the crowd at the Senayan sports stadium roared. “Why are you laughing? You guys don’t believe it? With the second president, I often had lunch with him.”

Prabowo said that the nation’s more than 100 million young voters were key to his victory and also thanked his ex-wife Titiek Suharto, drawing loud cheers.

The shoutouts to Suharto signify a stunning turn of events in the world’s third-largest democracy, where analysts have highlighted a rise in illiberalism, nepotism and old-time patronage politics.

Suharto, Indonesia’s late strongman president, oversaw decades of repressive rule and one of the world’s most corrupt regimes before being forced to step down during mass protests and an economic crisis in 1998.

Prabowo, a former special forces commander, was dismissed from the military amid unproven allegations of human rights abuses, including the kidnapping of 13 student activists during those protests. He has always denied involvement.

Unofficial quick counts released in the world’s third-largest democracy on Wednesday signal an insurmountable lead for the ex-commander and his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and the pinnacle of a political rehabilitation that has been decades in the making.

“We are grateful for the quick count results. All the calculations, all pollsters, including those on our rivals’ side, the figures showed that Prabowo-Gibran win in one round,” he said, before baby-blue confetti was dropped on the stage.

“This victory should be a victory for all Indonesians.”

Thousands packed the stadium in central Jakarta, dancing, chanting Prabowo’s name and giving a two-fingered peace salute to symbolise his number on the ballot.

“Finally, he wins after three times running for the presidency. I have voted for him since 2014,” said Ida Yayan, who travelled for hours to attend. “I think everyone finally realizes that Prabowo is a good man and he deserves to be our president.”

“Praise God, Prabowo has won,” said Muhammad Luth. “I hope Prabowo can bring prosperity to the country, cheap staple food and free lunch and milk for the children.”

The ex-general turned defence minister ran on a platform of continuing the policies of outgoing president, Joko Widodo, and has pledged free lunches for all schoolchildren.

Official results will be released before March 20 and the new president will be inaugurated in October.

(Writing and Reporting by Kate Lamb; Editing by Nick Macfie)