Thursday, November 26, 2009

Indonesia - This Tiger's Hungry For The Presidency

ANYONE who doubts whether cashiered general Prabowo Subianto will make a serious bid for the presidency in 2014 need only watch Hungry Is The Tiger, a beautifully filmed documentary that lays out his plan to rescue the country's poor. Using a series of heartrending interviews, interspersed with wayang storytelling, the 79-minute documentary offers the promise of a 'White Revolution' that will turn deprived children into tigers - 'hungry and strong'.

The revolution is about milk and how Indonesia can emulate a successful project in western India, where women are given dairy cows as a way of supplementing the income of their husbands and keeping their children in good health at the same time.
This is not a crass exercise in political hype. Director and cinematographer Gary Hayes - whose new Julia Roberts feature, Eat, Pray, Love, was partly shot in Bali - has created an amazing canvas on which to paint a simple, compelling message. As a professional work, it mirrors the slick televised campaign advertisements that got Prabowo a lot of attention when he first declared his presidential ambitions - something that had never been seen before in Indonesia.

In this case, however, an obviously well-fed Prabowo is introduced only as a goat-breeding former general, who got all his soldiers to drink milk when he was a battalion commander in Bali years ago. He had to abandon his own presidential campaign, but acting as the running mate of Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle presidential candidate Megawati Sukarnoputri did win him extra visibility.

A former chief of the Indonesian Special Forces and the Army Strategic Reserve, the often hot-headed Prabowo may be controversial. But as a trip this correspondent took through Java earlier this year revealed, he has a growing following. How he keeps himself in the spotlight over the next five years and how much money his businessman-brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, is prepared to lay out for him will go a long way towards determining his chances in what is now a wide-open field.

Recent reports suggest the brothers have had a falling out in recent weeks because of Hashim's insistence on having a bigger say in Prabowo's Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), which controls 26 seats in the new Parliament. But if that is the case, it won't last long. They have always been close, as befits brothers whose father, former finance minister Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, always saw them as a dream team: Prabowo the military and political leader, and Hashim the financier.

While it is far too early to make a serious assessment for 2014, it is still a wide-open field with only Din Syamsuddin, the head of mass Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah, as the other likely candidate at this point.

Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie may be tempted, but Indonesians are wary of businessmen, particularly someone whose drilling company is widely blamed for causing the ongoing Sidoarjo mudflow disaster in vote-rich East Java. What we don't know is whether President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will use the incumbency in his final two years to promote a possible successor to carry the banner of his majority Democratic Party.

There is virtually no one on the horizon at this point, but Vice- President Boediono or Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati could be contenders - or even Paramadina University president Anies Baswedan, 40, clearly a national leader in the making.
Certainly, Hungry Is The Tiger is a strong reminder that Prabowo is in there for the long haul, as is his retention of Dallas-based Republican strategist Rob Allyn, who acted as scriptwriter and executive producer for the film. The emphasis on self-sufficiency is interesting. Prabowo is, after all, the former son-in-law of ex-president Suharto, whose obsession with growing enough rice for a populace that was once close to starvation won him a United Nations award in the late 1970s. More importantly, Prabowo sees the political advantages of focusing on the rural poor in particular and on the so-called 'people's economy' - a lesson he learnt from deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Some people called Thaksin's rural programmes 'money politics', failing to recognise that it was a win-win situation - not only for Thaksin himself, but more importantly, for a huge section of voters who had previously been largely ignored.

Human rights groups will almost certainly continue to highlight the role Prabowo has admitted to playing in the 1997-98 abduction of pro-democracy activists, 12 of whom have disappeared. But many voters are either too young to remember that period or, like a lot of people I have talked to in the rural hinterland, simply choose to put it all behind them in favour of someone they seem to genuinely like.

That's the interesting thing about Prabowo, even if he is portrayed in elite circles as a dangerous man. He does seem to appeal to a wide range of younger constituents, a great many of them girls whose jilbabs indicate a devout adherence to Islam.

There is no question, however, that Prabowo's human rights record will continue to haunt him if he ever becomes president. He is currently banned from visiting the United States and openly acknowledges that he would have to send his vice-president in his place. The Straits Times (Singapore) John McBeth, Senior Writer

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