Prabowo leaves human rights inquiries unanswered

What makes certain countries great while others are not? In his recent public lecture in Singapore, former Indonesian Army strategic reserve command chief Prabowo Subianto argued that countries that are brave enough to face challenges are those which prevail.

Prabowo, founder of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), identified four obstacles that might cripple Indonesia’s future. First is the depletion of energy resources. Prabowo predicted that Indonesia’s crude oil would be exhausted in 12 years, gas in 34 years and coal in 79 years if the current consumption of fossil fuels remained unchanged.

The solution Prabowo offered was to explore geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind energy resources. He suggested that “in 30 to 50 years, Indonesia must develop nuclear power.” His idea of investing in nuclear energy is of some concern as despite the energy being relatively clean compared to fossil fuels, the hazard aspect is high, especially due to Indonesia’s location in the “Ring of Fire”, the arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

Second, Indonesia is facing the danger of a baby boom if its current population of 240 million is not effectively addressed through family planning while food supplies remain inadequate. This will result in instability, upheaval and disintegration.

The third problem is inefficient, weak and corrupt government. Prabowo admitted that this claim is “difficult to quantify, but nonetheless very real and factual”. He pointed out that government inefficiency is responsible for rampant corruption and might lead Indonesia to becoming “a weak or even failed state”.

Prabowo based his argument on the number of authoritative governing bodies that Indonesia has, amounting to 497, compared to India and China that have 35 and 33 respectively. Prabowo continued by stating that 13 out of 33 governors are in jail, on trial or under investigation for corruption; and around 30 percent of Indonesia’s senior public figures face corruption charges.

Despite the data, it is necessary for us to note that the rampant corruption shows, not the frail nature of the governance system, but rather the failure of the people that fill the positions.

If the graft cases justify a political move to revoke direct election of local leaders, regional autonomy will be negated and the country will return to New Order-style centralized government. We should not be naive, we should be aware that the high number of corrupt government officials is a result of press freedom; in the old days more money went astray without anybody daring to report it.

Fourth and lastly, Prabowo lashed out at the inequalities created by the structural imbalance of the Indonesian economy. Sixty percent of money circulates in Jakarta and more than 95 percent of Indonesians save less than Rp 100 million (US$12,000) as against those 0.1 percent that have savings of more than Rp 2 billion (Bank Indonesia, 2011) and only 0.17 percent of Indonesians control 45 percent of the country’s GDP, Prabowo feared this situation would create social tensions and a sense of dissatisfaction.

As chairman of the Indonesian Farmers Union (HKTI) Prabowo said solutions to the problems included bolstering the agricultural sector, including use of biofuels produced from cassava and corn. This advice ignored the length of time Indonesia would need to switch from conventional fuels to biofuel. At the other end of the spectrum, Indonesia has sparked international criticism for destroying rainforests for biofuel palm-oil plantations (The Cost of the Biofuel Boom, Yale Report by Tom Knudson, 2009). Not only the environmental impact, land conversion to profitable palm-oil plantations has resulted in 280 cases of social conflict in 2008-2011 according to green group Walhi (Indonesian Forum for the Environment).

Apart from flaunting Indonesia’s problems and weak governance, Prabowo’s lecture in Singapore aimed to win the heart of Singaporeans. He mentioned his admiration for Singapore’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Prabowo has great respect for Lee’s achievement of “turning a third world country into a developed country”, his model of the People’s Action Party that has managed to win every Singapore national election since 1959, and even his white short-sleeve shirt style that Prabowo has replicated for Gerinda.

Conversely Prabowo mentioned the importance of good relations between national leaders as a solid base for the future of international relations. He recalled the great cooperation between former president Soeharto and Lee in establishing the regional institution ASEAN. Prabowo criticized the current Indonesian foreign policy approach of “zero enemies, a thousand friends” which he said was no more than being nice to everybody. While being nice is good, further action needs to be taken.

Prabowo came under scrutiny over his political and economic standing. He denied allegations that he embraced socialism and was against Chinese and non-Muslims, citing his support for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as candidate for Jakarta vice-governor.

Prabowo seemed confident of becoming the next Indonesian leader, yet, on that day, nobody was given an opportunity to ask about his views on past human rights abuses. It would be interesting to hear his opinions on bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes against humanity, accusations of which have dogged him for many years, and whether a good human-rights track record should be mandatory in selecting national leaders.

Clarification on these issues is what many Indonesians would like to hear from Prabowo before the 2014 presidential election.

The writer is an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This opinions expressed are her own.

Published in Jakarta Post, 9 August 2012

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