Prabowo Maneuvering for 2014 Elections

With four more small parties set to join the Great Indonesia Movement Party and the ruling coalition warming to it, party chairman Prabowo Subianto’s road to the presidency in 2014 is looking a lot smoother.

The party, also known as Gerindra, has worked over the past few months to create an alliance of 10 small political parties to consolidate its power base ahead of the 2014 general elections. Gerindra’s target is to win at least 13 percent of the 560 seats at the House of Representatives in 2014 — compared to the 4.5 percent the party now holds.

It has also been touted as a possible replacement for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in the ruling coalition after Gerindra backed the president’s Democrats in opposing a proposed inquiry into corruption at the tax office. The PKS and the Golkar Party, both coalition members, broke ranks when they supported the inquiry, which ultimately failed in a plenary session where Gerindra’s votes proved decisive.

Marzuki Alie, the House speaker and deputy chairman of the Democratic Party’s advisory board, said on Friday that Gerindra could prove to be a valuable coalition partner. Gerindra also hinted on Sunday that it was open to the possibility of joining the ruling coalition. The party’s deputy chairman, Fadli, told the Jakarta Globe that “nothing is impossible in politics.” But the party will also keep its eye on winning the presidency in 2014, when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will not be eligible to run for a third term.

Political observers say that by voting in line with the Democrats on recent issues, Gerindra is sending a friendly signal and in return expects the ruling party — which has not named a candidate to replace Yudhoyono — not to block Prabowo’s presidential bid. One political insider says that while there is no shortage of ammunition against Prabowo, the Gerindra chairman hopes to avoid mudslinging from the ruling Democratic Party.

Prabowo, a retired Army general, was widely accused of controlling paramilitary squads used by the Kopassus special forces to kidnap, torture and kill East Timorese dissidents while it was still an Indonesian province. He is also accused of being behind the rioting in Jakarta in May 1998, leading up to the downfall of President Suharto, as well as the kidnapping, torture and murder of antigovernment activists. He would later be found guilty by a military ethics tribunal of “exceeding orders” in the 1998 kidnappings, but was not jailed.

But the political insider said the Democrats also want something in return for allowing Prabowo to run unimpeded. Playing ball with Gerindra, according to the source, helps the Democratic Party by driving a wedge between Gerindra and the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), tacitly acknowledging Prabowo’s growing strength. In other words, t he payoff for Yudhoyono’s Democrats is to keep Gerindra from getting too close to the PDI-P, especially since the ticket of PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri and Prabowo came second to Yudhoyono in 2009.

But Marzuki denied that ties between the Democrats and Gerindra were based on “pragmatic and transactional” politics. “I know Gerindra is very critical of certain issues, but when it deals with any political move to counter government policies, I’m sure they’ll never support it,” the House speaker said. Fadli, Gerindra’s deputy chairman, said the party did not regard itself as a friend or enemy of the ruling coalition.

He also said Prabowo had never discussed any specific “possibilities” with the Democrats or other coalition members. “Of course, we’re never going to beg [the Democratic Party to let us join the coalition], but if the offer comes, we’ll certainly discuss it with the party’s leaders,” Fadli said. JG Analysis