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Indonesia: Controversial ex-general Subianto declared President-elect after court rejects rivals' appeal

Subianto won 58.6 per cent of the total votes, which were more than twice of his rivals Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo. However, the losing candidates demanded a re-vote, alleging widespread fraud, election interference and nepotism.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Jakarta Published on: April 24, 2024 23:41 IST
Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto, President-elect
Image Source : AP Indonesian Defense Minister and President-elect Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Jakarta: Indonesia's election commission on Wednesday officially declared Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto as President-elect after the country's highest court rejected challenges to his landslide win in February's presidential elections by the two losing candidates. Subianto won the election with 58.6 per cent - or over 96 million ballots - more than twice the amount received by the two candidates

Subianto's rivals alleged that he won through large-scale fraud and widespread state interference, leading to the case. Authorities blocked streets leading to the General Election Commission compound, where more than 4,200 police and soldiers were deployed, as the verdict was being announced. Subianto and vice president-elect Gibran Rakabuming Raka waved to their supporters as they arrived at the building.

“The race has finished...the tough contest, with sometimes heated debates, is over," Subianto said during the ceremony, attended by the country's political elite, including rival candidate Anies Baswedan and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar. “And now our people demand that political leaders must work together and collaborate for the people's welfare and to eliminate poverty and corruption in Indonesia,” he added.

Subianto will take office in October, succeeding the popular Joko Widodo, whose son is the President-elect. The General Election Commission certified the election results on March 20, but the formal declaration ceremony was put on hold following legal challenges from rival candidates, former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, who sought to annul the result and demand a re-vote.

What were the charges against Subianto?

Subianto's rivals Baswedan and Pranowo argued that the 37-year-old Raka should have been disqualified because the minimum age for candidates is 40, and they asked the court to bar him from a re-vote. Raka was granted a controversial exception before the election by the Constitutional Court, leading Subianto's rivals to allege nepotism. The court was led by Anwar Usman, Widodo's brother-in-law, who was later forced to resign for failing to recuse himself.

In a 5-to-3 decision, the Constitutional Court rejected the arguments on Monday, saying the legal teams of the losing candidates had failed to prove allegations that Subianto's victory was the result of widespread fraud and election interference. That verdict was decided by eight justices instead of the full nine-member court in the absence of Usman, and could not be appealed.

Following this, Baswedan and Iskandar conceded and congratulated Subianto and Raka shortly after the Constitutional Court's decision was read out on Monday, saying they are committed to maintaining the principle of peaceful transfer of power and that “we choose to be part of continuing to build the quality of Indonesian democracy”.

“We accept and fully respect the decision of the Constitutional Court,” Pranowo said, “Like or dislike, we have to accept it because it's final, legal and binding.”

Who is Subianto and why he is linked to human rights abuses?

Subianto, a former special forces commander, rode on the president's popularity and using social media like TikTok to tap the support of Indonesia's huge young voter base. His road to victory was marred by controversies and concerns about patronage politics over his alliance with Widodo, known as Jokowi, who was widely accused of abusing his position to favour his former rival, allegations his allies deny.

Even before entering the political fray, Subianto has been linked to numerous human rights abuses allegedly committed when he was a commander in Indonesia's Kopassus special forces. Subianto was dishonourably discharged from the military in 1998 after Kopassus soldiers tortured activists who opposed dictator Suharto, his father-in-law. He never faced a trial and vehemently denied any involvement, although several of his men were tried and convicted.

Of at least 22 activists kidnapped that year, 13 remain missing to this day, and their families protest weekly outside the presidential palace demanding the activists be accounted for. He went into self-exile in Jordan before returning and founding the Gerindra Party in early 2008. He is reported to have worked with hardline Islamists to undermine his opponents and previously made three bids for the presidency, twice losing to Widodo despite challenging the results. 

Subianto's refusal to accept the results of the 2019 presidential election led to violence that left nine people dead in Jakarta, but he joined the cabinet after Widodo offered him the defence ministry in a bid for unity. The election in February had high stakes for the United States and China, since Indonesia has a huge domestic market, natural resources like nickel and palm oil, and diplomatic influence with its Southeast Asian neighbours.

(with inputs from AP)

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