JAKARTA Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto seems to be following the playbook of U.S. President Donald Trump as he mounts his second campaign for the top office.
Blaming the media has become a theme of the Western-educated, former military commander's second presidential campaign, after he lost in 2014 to President Joko Widodo, who is widely known by his nickname Jokowi. Populism � reflected in his economic plans, recent statements and political track record � seems to be the language of his campaign for the April election.
After demonstrators took to the streets peacefully this month to mark the anniversary of their rally against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was later jailed on blasphemy charges, Prabowo criticized the Indonesian media for failing to adequately report on the Islamic rally.
"We [the participants of the rally] are deemed penniless [by the media]," he said in a speech. "Almost all of them didn't report on the millions who gathered." However, Dedi Prasetyo, the National Police spokesman, said only 40,000 people were gathered.
In a written statement, Ahmad Muzani, the secretary general of Prabowo's Gerindra party, clarified that the candidate's statement was an indictment of media owners for misrepresenting his statements. "[Mr.] Prabowo did not fault the journalists and reporters on the ground, but he criticized media owners and media leadership who seemed to have deliberately decided not to publicize the gathering," he said.
As the documents in the recently-declassified files from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta show, his eventual firing was preceded by accusations of the kidnapping of political activists during riots in 1998, some of whom never returned.
"During Suharto's final year in office, at least 20 such activists disappeared. The armed forces in August acknowledged responsibility for illegally kidnaping nine activists who already had been released, several of whom said that they were tortured while in detention. At least 12 activists remained missing as of year's end," wrote the U.S. State Department in a 1999 report.
Though human rights were a major issue in the last election, activists say they won't be as resonant this year because of what they say is Jokowi's inability to resolve past human rights violations, like the Indonesian 1965 massacre or the arrests and murders of West Papuans.
"Jokowi's all but lost the legitimacy to [criticize Prabowo for human rights issues]," Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International in Indonesia, told VOA. "There's no insurance that if he gets elected, human rights issues will be solved. To solve issues like in Aceh and Papua still relies on repression as opposed to diplomacy."
Polls have shown that Jokowi has an edge over Prabowo. Lingkaran Survei Indonesia, one of the country's pollsters, put the Jokowi-Ma'ruf ticket at 53.2 percent, and the Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket at 31.2 percent earlier this month.
But Ronodipuro questioned the credibility of Indonesian pollsters. "The Indonesian people should make an informed decision based on the vision, missions and programs each ticket offers. The way we see it, this election is about a referendum on the economy that will determine the fate of Indonesians in the future," he said.
Source: Voice of America