Presidential hopeful: Corruption in Indonesia like stage four cancer

Prabowo Subianto will contest next April against incumbent Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in a rematch of the 2014 presidential election where he was narrowly defeated. — Nuria Ling/ TODAY pic
Prabowo Subianto will contest next April against incumbent Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in a rematch of the 2014 presidential election where he was narrowly defeated. — Nuria Ling/ TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 27 — Comparing what he called “rampant and massive” corruption in his home country to “stage 4 cancer”, Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto stressed the need for a fair election, clean government and rule-based system.

If elected, his first priority would be to assemble a team of the “best and brightest” people with integrity to carry out reforms to bring about a clean and non-corrupt government, he said yesterday.

Subianto will contest next April against incumbent President Joko Widodo, in a rematch of the 2014 presidential election where he was narrowly defeated.

While the campaigning, which started in September, has yet to kick into full gear, polls from research and consulting firms show that Widodo — popularly known as Jokowi — has a significant lead over his challenger.

Speaking at The Economist’s “The World in 2019” gala dinner at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Singapore, Subianto said that he is committed to upholding democracy.

Democracy means having a fair election, which depends on a clean voter registry, he added. Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world, behind India and the United States.

A well-educated electorate is also needed for democracy to thrive, but Subianto said that 55 per cent of “my people are functionally illiterate”.

Some 187 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in next year’s presidential and legislative polls. It was previously reported that the country’s General Elections Commission had updated the figure after removing more than 670,000 names following complaints of duplicate names.

Subianto, who is chairman of the nationalist Gerindra Party that forms the main opposition together with two Islamic parties, expressed despair over his country’s state of democracy, pointing to the culture of cheating in elections.

‘Race against time to get rid of corruption’

“The main issue in Indonesia is the rampant and massive corruption. In my opinion, it is already a cancer that has reached maybe stage 4,” he said.

He believes that a clean bureaucracy and politics will entice businesses to invest in Indonesia, and pointed to Singapore’s success story, which he said was largely due to a clean government that abides by the rule of law.

“These are what Indonesia needs. Indonesia needs to get its act together”, Subianto said, adding that his country is in a race against time to get rid of corruption and have a clean and meritocratic society.

Of late, Subianto has invited comparisons to United States President Donald Trump with his nationalist rhetoric.

The former general has been quoted as saying, “Why are the Indonesian people afraid to say ‘Indonesia first, make Indonesia great again?”, which echoes Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Asked about the comparison, Subianto said that he is “not too well-versed” on the US’ political situation. Besides, “I’m very low-key,” he quipped.

He acknowledged that Trump has been alienated by some segments of his country, but said that the American president’s aspiration to defend his country’s interests should be respected.

During the dialogue, Subianto claimed that even when he was a general under former President Suharto’s regime, he had emphasised the need for the military to stay out of politics. The late Suharto had used the military to crack down on dissidents and the ethnic Chinese population.

Dialogue moderator Daniel Franklin — the executive and diplomatic editor at The Economist — then commented that Subianto had once described students protesting against Suharto’s regime as traitors. In response, Subianto said he “doesn’t remember that”.

“I did my duty,” he told the audience of about 200, made up of mostly business leaders.

Asked by an audience member for his thoughts on radicalism posing a challenge to Indonesia, Subianto said he was convinced that a core majority of Muslims in his country “are moderate and don’t want to be dragged into radicalism”.

But the sense of helplessness and frustration due to poverty may make some susceptible to radical influences, he said.

Other speakers at the gala dinner included Malaysian Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, as well as chief executive officer of ride-hailing firm Grab Anthony Tan.

Nurul Izzah spoke about how younger leaders in Malaysia are able to adapt with the times and engage the electorate, while Tan spoke about the ride-hailing model. —TODAY

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