Indonesia presidential race pits heavy metal against the general

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, and his challenger in the upcoming election Prabowo Subianto during their campaign rallies in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP)
Updated 17 April 2019

Indonesia presidential race pits heavy metal against the general

  • A record 245,000 candidates are running for public office from the presidency down to local legislator positions, including an Olympic gold medallist, a pop diva, and a frontman who lost his bandmates and wife in a killer tsunami
  • Widodo’s landmark 2014 victory capped a remarkable rise for the down-to-earth outsider in a political scene dominated by dynasties from the era of Indonesia’s late dictator Suharto

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s heavy metal-loving leader Joko Widodo faces off against ex-military general Prabowo Subianto in the race to lead the world’s third-biggest democracy Wednesday, a re-run of the 2014 election contest narrowly won by Widodo.
A record 245,000 candidates are running for public office from the presidency down to local legislator positions, including an Olympic gold medallist, a pop diva, a frontman who lost his bandmates and wife in a killer tsunami and even a late dictator’s son convicted of masterminding a judge’s murder.
Widodo’s landmark 2014 victory capped a remarkable rise for the down-to-earth outsider in a political scene dominated by dynasties from the era of Indonesia’s late dictator Suharto.
A one-time furniture exporter, the 57-year-old shot to prominence when he was elected governor of the capital Jakarta in 2012 after a successful stint as mayor of his hometown Solo.
Raised in a bamboo shack in a riverside slum, his humble demeanour and love for headbangers Metallica proved a hit with voters fed up with a graft-prone elite.
But the father of three — popularly known as Jokowi — carries a mixed track record into the polls.
He championed an ambitious drive to build much-needed roads, airports and other infrastructure across the sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, including Jakarta’s first mass rapid transit system.
He also ushered in or expanded popular health and social development schemes, including cash for the rural poor.
But his rights record has come under scrutiny, with an uptick in discriminatory attacks on Indonesia’s small LGBT community during his tenure, and high-profile cases of intolerance directed at religious minority groups in the Muslim majority nation.
He has also been accused of creeping authoritarianism following arrests of opposition campaigners and a revised law that let Jakarta ban mass organizations.
Viewed as weak and out of his depth in his first year in office, Widodo consolidated power in part by appointing Suharto-era army generals with chequered pasts to key posts.
He has further isolated moderate voters by picking conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin — known for his disparaging views of minorities — as his vice presidential nominee.
Indonesia’s reputation for tolerant Islam has come into question in recent years as religious hard-liners become increasingly vocal.
Widening inequality and a slump in the rupiah currency have sparked criticism of Widodo’s economic stewardship, despite annual growth of about five percent and low inflation.
His big-ticket infrastructure projects have also been knocked for offering little benefit to tens of millions of poor Indonesians.
Subianto lost by a whisker five years ago, cutting Widodo’s once-huge lead to just a few points by polling day.
The ex-general — and ex-husband of one Suharto’s daughters — faces another uphill battle in 2019, trailing by double digits in most opinion polls ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
Prabowo has tried and failed to win high office several times over the past 15 years, including an unsuccessful 2009 run for the vice presidency.
But his ambitions have been dogged by ties to the Suharto family and a dark past — Subianto ordered the abduction of democracy activists in the dying days of the dictator’s rule in 1998 and has been accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.
He was dismissed from the military over the kidnappings.
This time round Subianto has sought to portray himself as a defender of the nation who will boost military spending, and has accused Widodo of selling the mineral-rich country to foreign interests, including China.
He has courted hard-line Islamist groups and — despite being vastly wealthy himself — railed against the country’s elites, claiming they are exploiting the poor.
Some commentators say that the overseas-educated 67-year-old believes he is destined to lead Indonesia.
Others have questioned his hunger for the job, suggesting he is running to help his Gerindra party at the polls and to supply a platform for younger running mate Sandiaga Uno.
Uno, a 49-year-old former financier who is reported to have spent about $100 million of his own fortune on the campaign, has been popular with millennials and housewives, possibly paving the way for a tilt at Indonesia’s top job in 2024.
The dictator’s youngest son served just four years of a 15-year prison term for hiring hitmen to murder a supreme court judge who had sentenced him to jail for corruption.
Known as a playboy with a taste for flashy cars, the younger Suharto is running for a legislative seat in Papua, which his father annexed in the late 1960s following a UN-backed referendum widely criticized as a sham.
Considered one of badminton’s greatest doubles specialists, the 48-year-old and his partner Rexy Mainaky won over 30 international titles together, including a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Pop music star and actor Krisdayanti is taking her first run at public office after a successful career that saw the former teen model shoot to fame at home and also in neighboring Malaysia and Brunei.
Frontman of pop-rock band ‘Seventeen’, Ifan 17, lost his bandmates and wife when a towering tsunami slammed into a beachside resort at a concert last year on Java island.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.