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Indonesia state apparatus is preparing to throw election to a notorious massacre general

The Intercept - February 10, 2024

Allan Nairn – Indonesia, the scene of two of the 20th century's epic slaughters, may be on the verge of a return to army rule at the hands of its most notorious general.

Gen. Prabowo Subianto, a longtime U.S. protege implicated in the country's massacres, once mused to me about becoming "a fascist dictator" and is now a serious threat to assume the presidency.

For Prabowo, as he is known, to be elected in February 14's first round of voting, he must get 50 percent-plus-one of the accepted ballots in the three-way vote and receive at least 20 percent of the votes in 19 of Indonesia's 38 provinces.

In 2001, I met and interviewed Prabowo twice, discussing army massacres – including one, in Dili, East Timor, which I happened to survive – and democracy in Indonesia.

"Indonesia is not ready for democracy," he told me in those meetings. The country, he said, needs "a benign authoritarian regime."

Prabowo expressed support for army rule. He praised a recent coup in Pakistan and mused about making a similar move in Indonesia. "Do I have the guts?" he asked rhetorically. "Am I ready to be called a fascist dictator?"

Prabowo has since repeatedly attempted coups and failed twice in presidential elections.

"Do I have the guts? Am I ready to be called a fascist dictator?"

Today, however, he has the state apparatus behind him, mobilized by the incumbent civilian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, who had previously privately discussed with his staff trying the general for war crimes.

The levers of state power are playing a pivotal role in the campaign. Local officials are being threatened with prosecution if they do not back the general. And across the country, army and police are instructing people to vote for Prabowo, a directive with special weight for poorer people who live at their mercy. Government-distributed bags of rice and cooking oil are turning up across the country with Prabowo stickers. Families who need to get the provisions must sometimes pick them up at Prabowo campaign offices.

Many polls say this state-run partisan campaign has Prabowo hovering near 50 percent, but some officials in the Jokowi government tell me they don't want to leave it to chance.

At an internal meeting last Wednesday, army and intelligence officials discussed the existence of a plan to, if needed, use the state apparatus to do electoral fraud, according to two people familiar with the scheme. The prepared procedure involves police and "babinsas" – the army's eyes, ears, and hands at the neighborhood level – receiving and distributing money to fix precinct-level tabulation sheets, as well as, in some cases, the computer data entry below and at the administrative district level, with an option for hacking the internal system of the electoral commission.

Campaign officials have in the past boasted to me of using such tactics in local places where they have sway. Their application on a national level by the state would have potentially large implications – helping to cede Indonesian democracy, once again, to despotic rule.

'The American'

The heir of a wealthy banking family, Prabowo holds hundreds of thousands of acres of plantation, mining, and industrial properties. He was the son-in-law of the late dictator Gen. Suharto, who, with U.S. support, ruled Indonesia for 32 years.

Suharto seized power in a 1965 coup, toppling Sukarno, the country's founding civilian president and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. Then, with the CIA providing a death list of 5,000 names, Suharto and his army killed 400,000 to a million Indonesian civilians.

In 1975, after a meeting with President Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger, Suharto – with their weapons and go-ahead – invaded neighboring East Timor. There, the Indonesian armed forces killed one-third of the Timorese population. It was, in proportional terms, the most intensive slaughter since the Nazis.

Prabowo, as Suharto's son-in-law, was a senior commander of the massacres in occupied East Timor. In one, at Kraras in 1983 on the mountain of Bibileo, "several hundred" civilians were murdered, according to a United Nations-backed inquiry. Prabowo also personally tortured captives; one told me of Prabowo breaking his teeth.

Prabowo described himself to me as "the Americans' fair-haired boy." He worked hand-in-glove with the U.S. as he carried out massacres, torture, and disappearances – so closely that his fellow officers, he said, sometimes mocked him as "the American."

Initially trained by the U.S. at Georgia's Fort Benning and North Carolina's Fort Bragg – today known as Fort Moore and Fort Liberty, respectively – Prabowo spoke to me in detail of his work with the Pentagon, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, to which he said he reported at least weekly.

According to Pentagon documents, he brought U.S. troops to Indonesia on dozens of occasions, a presence that helped to facilitate at least two covert U.S. operations. Prabowo told me that the U.S. troops he brought in did "reconnaissance" for "the invasion contingency" – the preparation of U.S. plans for a possible invasion of Indonesia.

From massacres to cuddly cartoon

When I met Prabowo in summer 2001, he offered a comment on a Timor massacre – this one not his – which I survived: the Santa Cruz massacre of November 12, 1991. At the Santa Cruz cemetery on November 12, 1991, the Indonesian army murdered at least 271 Timorese civilians. The soldiers fractured my skull with the butts of their U.S.-supplied M16s after my failed attempt to block them as they marched on the crowd.

Prabowo told me that Santa Cruz was an "imbecilic" operation because the army had done it in front of me and other outside, surviving witnesses. "Santa Cruz killed us politically," Prabowo said. "It was the defeat."

"You don't massacre civilians in front of the world press," he explained. "Maybe commanders do it in villages where no one will ever know, but not in the provincial capital."

After Santa Cruz, we were able to report and mobilize support, helping to get U.S. Congress to end the flow of arms to Indonesia – a key to the government's downfall, Suharto's security chief later griped to me.

In 1998, with Suharto hobbled by the arms cutoff and facing growing demonstrations, Prabowo abducted 24 democratic activists, 13 of whom he "disappeared." He also engendered a campaign of murder, arson, and rape, mainly against ethnic Chinese residents.

When we spoke, Prabowo blamed some of the 1998 crimes on his rival – Gen. Wiranto, who now supports him – but he did not attempt to deny his own role in running the anti-Chinese riots. "There were 128 fires at one time," he said with what might be called pride. "This was an operation: planned, instigated, controlled."

The bid to quell protests, however, failed, and Suharto fell. Less than 70 hours after a new president was in office, Prabowo staged a failed coup attempt.

In ensuing years, Prabowo continued to be involved in killings of civilians, including in Aceh and West Papua. When he ran for president in 2014, Prabowo styled himself like Benito Mussolini. He rode a stallion into a cheering stadium. A key supporter dressed in Nazi SS garb.

In 2017, acting under a religious pretext, Prabowo and his generals backed a coup movement, with crucial involvement by a street militia aligned with the Islamic State. In 2019, when he ran for president again, that militia, the Front Pembela Islam, waved black ISIS flags at Prabowo rallies. He campaigned from the open-topped car of the self-described "president of ISIS Indonesia."

This time around, though, Prabowo has changed tack. In ads and on TV, he presents himself as a gemoy, a cuddly cartoon character.

Jokowi's reversal

The main reason Prabowo is finally on the cusp of achieving power is the arm-twisting support he is getting from Indonesia's current president. The dynamic came as a surprise to many because it was Jokowi who beat Prabowo in 2014 and 2019, with the support of many massacre survivors and human rights advocates.

Jokowi publicly spoke about not returning to dictatorship, and his administration, behind the scenes, discussed trying Prabowo and other generals for war crimes, though the attempt never came to pass.

Under sustained pressure from Prabowo and the generals, Jokowi's position evolved. He slowly increased domestic repression and his interests and theirs came to converge.

In 2016, Jokowi's government organized an event called the Symposium, where survivors of the U.S.-backed 1965 slaughter were given the chance to talk about it publicly. This event so enraged the army that Jokowi had to go to the military's headquarters and prostrate himself, but the president's groveling failed to calm the army.

It was after that Prabowo's generals and the ISIS-linked groups staged the quasi-religious mass demonstrations with the covert aim of bringing Jokowi down. I exposed this in a 2017 piece in The Intercept, drawing on army documents and interviews with coup leaders, and the coup momentum later dispersed.

When, in 2019, Prabowo tried the electoral route again, the ISIS-linked groups gave him an effective street organization. This mobilization took a hit, though, shortly before election day, when I published the minutes of a meeting at Prabowo's home where he and his generals made plans for imprisoning political opponents, referring back explicitly to the Suharto era. Their undoing was the plan to curry favor with the U.S. by arresting the Prabowo campaign's own clerics and Islamists.

Prabowo lost the 2019 election but announced he'd won, and his men took to the streets. Though Jokowi publicly rejected the rioters, the looting and burning helped seal his acquiescence to the massacre generals.

According to intermediaries from both sides, Jokowi reached out to Prabowo in the hope that bringing him inside would finally end the riots and coup attempts. Instead of putting Prabowo on trial, Jokowi put him in the government, making Prabowo the minister of defense. There, Prabowo continued the policy of killing civilians in West Papua, and the riot and coup threats did indeed evaporate as Jokowi had hoped.

As his term drew to a close, Jokowi explored options for extending his own legal mandate, but when these routes were blocked, he cut a deal with Prabowo and lent him his son, Gibran, as a running mate.

The other key for Prabowo has been the acceptance of Indonesia's oligarchs. Among them is Tomy Winata, a business magnate famed as a patron of the generals, who complains, including to me, that he is often labeled a "gangster." In an interview, Winata, who told me he has homes near the White House and in Los Angeles, said he is "neutral" in the election but speaks highly of Prabowo.

"Prabowo is quite OK, excellent," he told me. "I need a strong person to rule the country."

Winata said he had known Prabowo since he was in the field as an army commander, when he found the general "charming." When I asked Winata about Prabowo commanding army massacres, he replied, "I've heard that" – but he questioned whether such killings had actually happened, since he hadn't witnessed them himself.

Winata didn't hesitate in his response to a question about who he thought would win the election: "Me," he said. "A wins, I profit; B wins, I profit; C wins, I profit." He had a point there. None of the three contenders is likely to challenge the rule of the rich. Only one, however, made his name by personally mass-murdering civilians.

Source: https://theintercept.com/2024/02/10/indonesia-election-results-prabowo-fraud-stolen-election