Indonesia’s Jokowi Confers Honorary Promotion On Likely Successor

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Indonesia’s Jokowi Confers Honorary Promotion On Likely Successor

The promotion of Prabowo Subianto to the rank of four-star general has drawn further attention to his controversial military career under Suharto’s New Order regime.

Indonesia’s Jokowi Confers Honorary Promotion On Likely Successor

Indonesian President Joko Widodo shakes hands with Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto after presenting him with the rank of four-star general in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 28, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/Presiden Joko Widodo

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has bestowed the country’s second-highest military rank on his likely successor, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, praising his service to the nation but drawing criticisms over the ex-general’s controversial past.

Jokowi, as he is often known, presented the honorary rank of four-star general to the 72-year-old in front of high-ranking military and police officials in Jakarta yesterday.

“This award is a form of appreciation as well as confirmation of one’s complete devotion to the people, nation and state,” the Indonesian leader said, before attaching lapels with four gold stars on Prabowo’s dress uniform.

Prabowo ran alongside Jokowi’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka in the presidential election on February 14, and won about 58 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. His two rivals, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo are projected to have secured 25 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Prabowo lost the presidency to Jokowi in both the 2014 and 2019 elections, but this year benefited from the support of his former foe – and not without controversy. Jokowi has been accused of engineering his son’s appointment as Prabowo’s vice-presidential running-mate, via a much-criticized Constitutional Court ruling, and of using his influence and presidential powers to benefit Prabowo’s campaign.

Jokowi’s promotion will not only further substantiate these criticisms; it also inevitably draws further attention to Prabowo’s controversial military career under the New Order, which ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998. Prabowo was one of the administration’s chief enforcers and in 1983, married Suharto’s daughter Siti Hediati Hariyadi, also known as Titiek.

After graduating from the Indonesia Military Academy in 1974, he rose through the ranks and was granted command of Kopassus, the army’s special forces. As the commander of Kopassus, the army’s special forces, Prabowo was allegedly involved in a litany of human rights abuses, including atrocities in East Timor in the 1980s and 1990s, when the nation was under Indonesian occupation. Kopassus was also blamed for the abduction and torture of 22 activists who had opposed Suharto, in the months leading up to the collapse of the New Order in May 1998.

After Suharto’s fall, Prabowo went into voluntary exile in Jordan. Back in Jakarta, he and two other senior officers of the Kopassus elite military command were sanctioned after a military council found them guilty of involvement in the abduction and torture of the political activists. Prabowo was given early retirement and entered business, though he has denied any wrongdoing and said he was only following orders from his superiors. Nonetheless, Prabowo was barred from entering the United States and some other Western nations until his appointment as defense minister in 2019.

Given his background, it is hard not to see the honorary promotion as an effective endorsement of Prabowo’s military career, and even an exculpatory gesture. Gufron Mabruri, the executive director of the Indonesian rights group Imparsial, told The Associated Press that “giving Subianto an honorary four-star title with his track record in the military, and allegations of involvement in cases of human rights violations, will embarrass the honor and dignity of the Indonesian military.”

Andi Rezaldy of the rights group KontraS concurred, saying in a statement that the promotion would normalize past crimes committed by the military. “We urge the president to revoke the plan to award an honorary rank to Prabowo,” he said.