Former Kopassus Chief Adopts Bizarre Poll Tactic
Victims of the special forces unit have been hired as party candidates,
writes Tom Allard in Jakarta.
A SOEHARTO-era commander of Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces unit has a novel way of deflecting concerns about grave human rights abuses on his watch as he contests this year's national elections: he has hired some of the activists abducted and beaten by his troops as campaign workers and legislative candidates.
Prabowo Subianto, who is running a well-financed campaign for the presidency thanks to his billionaire brother, Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, was sacked from his military post in 1998 after a tribunal found troops under his command kidnapped pro-democracy students.
He is also accused of orchestrating multiple abuses during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and playing a role in the looting of Chinese businesses and the mass rape of Indonesian-Chinese women in Jakarta as Indonesia descended into chaos in 1998, the year the dictator Soeharto was ousted from power.
Prabowo, who fled to the Middle East after the fall of Soeharto, denies any wrongdoing. Still, the US continues to deny him a visa - highly problematic if he becomes president. "In a certain administration we could say it was preventive detention, and if the regime changes, then we say it's kidnapping," Mr Prabowo said on Friday of the activities of Kopassus's Rose Team, responsible for the abductions.
Three of those kidnapped now worked for his party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra. "Some say it's the Stockholm principle," he said in an often jocular address to correspondents in Jakarta. One of the former activists is his media officer while two are standing for seats in the new parliament.
Pius Lustrilanang is one of the legislative candidates, and was snatched off a Jakarta street by Kopassus forces in February 1998.
"I was forced to go into a car. My eyes were blindfolded," he told the Herald. "They interrogated me, tortured me and I was beaten. They held me for about two months."
Mr Lustrilanang said Mr Prabowo had apologised to him years ago but acknowledged the wealth behind the Prabowo campaign was a factor in joining the party after two attempts to stand for parliament for Megawati Soekarnoputri's PDI-P organisation.
"Look, I'm tired of siding with the wrong guys. I don't want to make that mistake again," Mr Lustrilanang said. "To me, Prabowo is a character who doesn't give up easily and is willing to learn. These elements are essentially important today as this country is still sunk in various problems."
Mr Prabowo, who previously attempted to launch a political career through Golkar, the party of Soeharto, is standing on a populist economic agenda with strong nationalist overtones.
Somewhat brazenly for a scion of Indonesia's elites who was once married to Soeharto's daughter and whose father was a finance minister in the Soeharto regime, he claims to head the "party of the dispossessed".
Gerindra claims a membership of 11.2 million and a stint as head of the Indonesian Farmers Association has given Mr Prabowo an extensive network of contacts. He has a powerful oratory style and his reputation as a charismatic strongman still carries appeal.
Polls show Gerindra has less than 5 per cent support, placing Mr Prabowo fourth or fifth among the presidential candidates.
Nonetheless, he is regarded as a dark horse in the poll. Gerindra has been blitzing the media with slickly produced TV ads. No party has more than 25 per cent support and candidates for the July poll will be selected in coalition-building after the April elections. Mr Prabowo's enormous financial clout ensures he will have plenty to bring to the table once the horse-trading begins.
with Karuni Rompies