MARCH 30 — When presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto descended on his chopper to the Bung Karno Sports Center in Central Jakarta and entered a packed stadium mounted on a horse to campaign for his Gerindra Party, some people thought the militaristic grandstanding was a tad too much.
But on the same day, a quiet operation to win the hearts and minds of Indonesians was taking place 1,300 kilometres away in a courtroom in Kelantan, Malaysia where an Indonesian maid is being tried for murdering her employer three years ago.
On this Sunday, Prabowo’s billionaire brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo travelled in his private jet to attend Wilfrida Soik’s trial with his wife Ani, two Malaysian lawyers, a Gerindra legislative candidate, and a small group of journalists including me.
Hashim was there in place of Prabowo, who interceded on the maid's behalf at her death row trial last year and hired a team of legal counsel led by Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah. Prabowo has attended the trial a few times, and when he couldn’t, Hashim’s wife or daughter would take his place.
The defence lawyer has centred their argument on psychiatrists’ diagnoses that Wilfrida had a history of mental instability. They allege the prosecutor of “shoddy investigative work”, including failing to investigate the possibility that she was abused by her deceased employer and that her attack was an act of self-defence. That day, the Kota Baru High Court decided to adjourn the trial for another week; a positive sign, the lawyers said.
The 42nd richest man in Indonesia according to Forbes, with business interests in oil, mining and plantation, Hashim said the case was just the tip of the iceberg caused by structural poverty in rural Indonesia that forces unskilled young people like Wilfrida to seek jobs overseas. Wilfrida, who was below 18 when she entered Malaysia with a falsified passport, is believed to be a victim of human trafficking.
“Of all the capital circulating in Indonesia, 60 per cent is owned by people in Greater Jakarta. So five per cent of Indonesians own 60 per cent of national wealth,” Hashim said.
“The remaining 30 per cent are owned by people in big cities, which leaves the rural areas to have access to merely 10 per cent of the economy. If we don’t do anything about this, there will be many more Wilfridas,” he said.
One of Prabowo’s campaign promises is to disburse Rp 1 billion (about RM288,332) per village for the 80,000 villages in Indonesia. The use of the money will be decided through a democratic means involving the village's social structure, instead of government apparatus, to prevent corruption.
Later on the plane, a 13-seater Embraer Legacy 600, I asked him whether he had envisioned himself a politician about 15 years ago, a turbulent time for the Djojohadikusumo clan. Prabowo had just been discharged from the military for the kidnapping of student activists at the time, while Hashim’s business hit rock bottom following the Asian financial crisis.
Never, he said. But years later, it was clear to him that the country had been mismanaged, and that without a strongman like his brother, a lot of opportunities will be squandered.
There is a sense that something more personal is at stake, his family’s legacy. That explains why his eldest son and daughter, who had largely spent their lives overseas, came back and became legislative candidates for Gerindra this year.
Coming from a line of blue-blooded Indonesians with a prominent economist father, Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, and grandfather Margono, who founded state-owned Bank Negara Indonesia, their lives hadn’t always been rosy. Parts of their childhood having been spent in exile.
After his dismissal, Prabowo, too, went on a self-imposed exile to Jordan, while Hashim took his family to Europe, first as “roving ambassador” of President B.J. Habibie, and later to build his business back.
In 2010, he came back to live in Jakarta more permanently (though he still splits his time between Jakarta and London), following his brother’s footsteps. The year before, Prabowo had run on then presidential candidate Megawati Sukarnoputri’s ticket under the agreement that she would support his presidential bid this year. Megawati broke the promise when she nominated Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo as her party’s candidate recently.
“We really thought that Ibu Mega was an honourable person, and we expected more from her,” Hashim said.
“She is the daughter of Bung Karno. Plus she came to us for help because her party did not meet the threshold to nominate a president so she needed Gerindra’s support,” he said, adding if Megawati had been more gracious and called to explain why the coalition could no longer continue, Prabowo would have accepted her decision.
Hashim believes Joko is not ready to run for president: “He’s a nice guy and we like him, but it’s like running for US President after being a mayor of New York for one and half years.”
Indonesia needs a strong leader who knows what to do from Day 1, he said.
A Suharto-style leadership then?
“Pak Harto was a good manager. He looked at a problem, found and designed the solution, executed the plan, monitored and evaluated again,” he said of Indonesia’s 32-year former president who was Prabowo’s father-in-law before the couple divorced.
Finally, I asked him what he thinks is his brother’s Achilles heel. Is it his famously mercurial temperament?
“No comment,” he said smiling, but added, “But many people said he’s improved in the last 10 to 15 years.”
“He was a commander, you see, and when you’re leading a troop of wolves, you have to be a superwolf. In the military, you instil fear first before you are loved.”
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.