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Don't count Indonesia's Prabowo out yet

Publication Date : 23-08-2014


The political career of Prabowo Subianto cannot be written off just yet, even if his refusal to concede defeat in the July 9 presidential election has soured ties with allies and raised questions about his temperament as a leader.

On Thursday night, he lost his legal challenge to get the election result overturned when the Constitutional Court ruled to uphold his rival Joko Widodo's victory.

Still, do not expect the former general, 62, to go away quietly.

Just days before the court ruling, he had told a gathering he was hosting in Bandung, West Java, that he would take his case to the State Administrative Court or even the Supreme Court. These avenues are in addition to other legal options.

But considering that the Constitutional Court's decision is final and binding, his other options are unlikely to work in casting doubt on the electoral process, let alone wresting power from Joko.

There are concerns that Prabowo's seven-party coalition, which controls two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, could block Bills or hinder policies.

They may form a special Parliamentary committee to cast doubt on the political process and perhaps even impeach the president.

However, this may not happen as cracks are appearing in the coalition.

Two allies - Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie and the United Development Party's (PPP) former chairman Suryadharma Ali - are under pressure from cadres to abandon a coalition linked to a man they see as a sore loser and who they feel will cost them politically.

Aburizal himself is facing a crisis, with party rivals  calling for his removal for failing to secure  a better election outcome for Golkar.

Prabowo's running mate Hatta Rajasa from the National Mandate Party (PAN) has said he accepted their defeat, and his absence from several coalition events is telling.

So is the absence of senior cadres from the Democrat Party who only two months ago joined Prabowo on stage at his last Jakarta rally to proclaim  their support.

Political analyst Philips Vermonte predicts that the coalition might crumble. "Parties are driven by pragmatism, not by loyalty. Even if they call themselves a coalition, they might vote differently depending on issues raised in Parliament," he said.

Some analysts say Prabowo could run again in five years' time, even though the latest failed bid is his third since 2004.

After all, his Gerindra party will have the most number of seats in the new Parliament, after Joko's Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar.

But Prabowo faces an uphill struggle, with recent polls showing declining public support, a sign that many Indonesians have been put off by his hollow claims of massive electoral fraud.

To this day, he has refused to concede defeat.

Jakarta-based analyst Paul Rowland says Prabowo has damaged his chances of launching another presidential bid in 2019.

"His behaviour after the election revealed his character... and put in question his statesmanship," he said.

In an interview with The Straits Times before the July 9 election, Prabowo - who declared that "losing is not an option" - also made this observation: "In Indonesian politics, anything can happen," he said.

So do not be surprised to see the former general, who believes he is destined to rule, make yet another bid for the presidency in 2019.

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