Editorial: Prabowo’s Thucydidean Dictatorianism

Editorial Omong-Omong

3 min read

Indonesia’s presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, an ex-general accused of abducting a number of activists during the end of Soeharto’s brutal totalitarian regime, fully demonstrated his dictatorial credential and mentality during a presidential debate on security, defence, globalisation and foreign policy on Sunday evening (Jan. 7).

Most of Prabowo’s arguments during the debate are based on the premise that first of all “we must be strong” and “the weak will only be wiped out by the strong”, seemingly without any regards to the defense and protection of the weak and their rights, reminiscent of what the Athenians told the Melians in Thucydides’s History of Peloponnesian War that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. 

In a brutal and ignorant fashion, to highlight his point on the need to make Indonesia strong Prabowo cited the Gaza occupation as an example of the consequence of being weak: being occupied by the strong. Gazans must accept their sufferings and destiny because of their own weakness.   

He simply blamed what has been happening in Gaza on the weakness of the Gazans or the Palestinians, deliberately omitting the fact that it is Israel who did the mass murder and invasion on the land. But because Israel is the strong side, they are the right side. 

In other words, being strong justifies any means.  

While the debate was about international affairs, Prabowo always referred back his arguments to domestic context, pushing strong Indonesia – both economically and militarily – as his main objective. By any indication, being strong for Prabowo means being unchallenged.     

This is a perfect recipe for an authoritarian regime or dictatorship in the making.

What reveals in the debate can’t be seen without a context that Prabowo was a human rights abuser, abducting and wiping out critical voices, and being released from the military for disregarding the rule and just doing what he wants. 

Adding this background to his fondness for accumulating power, we will have a dictator that won’t listen to people’s voices and criticism, while in the process destroying democracy.   

We can mention at least two recent cases to prove that he just doesn’t care about democratic principles and human rights to achieve his goals.

First, he gladly and even proudly accepted Gibran Rakabuming Raka, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s son, as his running-mate regardless of the fact that Gibran was able to run by having the law changed (with the help of his uncle) to suit his purpose. Never crossed Prabowo’s mind that such a move could destroy democracy, and the most important thing for him was that he gets Jokow’s support and his supporters’ support. and thus, especially support from the whole bureaucracy and state apparatus for his victory in the 2024 elections.    

The second proof was when he initiated out of the blue a proposal on Russia-Ukraine war during the Shangri-La Dialogue last year when he was invited as the defense minister, shocking the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs because there has not been any discussion on the matter. While proposing a peace initiative was good, it is really unfair to Ukraine and disregarding human rights altogether that became a laughing stock during the event. By treating Russia, the invader, and Ukraine, the attacked side, as equal, Prabowo showed his mentality of not respecting human rights of the Ukrainians.   

If becoming the president then most likely Prabowo will accumulate power in his own hands, shutting down any opposition and critics, and turning Indonesia into a dictatorship – like what his ex-father in law Soeharto did, because not only that is what he believes as an effective way to govern, but also that it is the only way he knows as the way do things: there is no place for talks (only “omong-omong” as he accused his rival Anies Baswedan).

But Can Prabowo Work?

While Prabowo accused Anies of being a talk-only candidate, his track records show he is even worse. The story of his life is a story of failure. 

It is only a myth that Prabowo can actually deliver something.

Under Soeharto’s regime, he has all the privileges a man could get. But what he did was self-centered. He was allegedly involved in various human rights violations and killings in East Timor, abducting activists and ending up being discharged from the Indonesian military. Did he make the military better? No. Was he involved in military reform? There has been no evidence. Did he make Indonesia better? Certainly, not.

And then, what has he done as Indonesia’s defense minister? In his almost five years in office, he has spent almost 700 trillion rupiah. However, it’s not clear what he has achieved other than purchasing second-hand military equipment.

Outside such a huge budget, his ministry also takes loans from abroad, reaching US$25 billion (almost 400 trillion rupiah), up from $20.75 billion in 2023. The public also has no clue where the money was distributed? Is it being used for elections? This is a valid question considering that Prabowo seems to have unlimited election funds.

Beyond his portfolio as defense minister, Prabowo was also leading a food estate project, worth tens of trillion rupiah. The project is a failure, leaving huge environmental damages and suffering to local people. 

We have not mentioned that he had lost in elections four times in a row, possibly a world record in itself.

So, where is the proof that he can actually deliver something? 

If Indonesia is foolish enough to vote for him, then the country can end up in a lose-lose situation: getting a dictator who will destroy democracy, and getting a leader who will fail to deliver the economic prosperity he has been eager to promise. 

Editorial Omong-Omong

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