As an avid polo player, Prabowo Subianto, the former son-in-law of Soeharto, fully grasps the idea that one must look good when playing the sport of kings.
However, the retired special-forces general must also know that a snazzy uniform is not enough to guarantee victory. One must also tame one’s horse, outmaneuver opponents and score goals.
In the past couple of days, Prabowo has been confronted by a daunting challenge to secure a horse that he can use ride into the 2014 presidential election.
Prabowo has certainly presented his best face to the public in recent days, as evidenced by his growing popularity among younger voters. Most pollsters have placed him atop their list of presidential hopefuls.
He has tried hard to overhaul his international profile by attending several prestigious events overseas to help people forget the allegations of human rights violations that surround the general for his actions during riots that saw the fall of the New Order in 1998.
All those image-boosting efforts, however, will be for naught unless Prabowo secures the support of the big parties that he needs to nominate him as a presidential candidate.
Top officials at the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), whose coattails Prabowo hopes to ride on, have recently sent clear signals that they would not forge a coalition in 2014 with his party, the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra).
Prabowo desperately needs the the PDI-P, his long-time ally, to form a coalition with Gerindra if he hopes to run for president in 2014. The law requires that coalitions or parties garner at least 20 percent of the vote in the general election to nominate a presidential candidate, something that Gerindra has failed to do on its own.
Further, several surveys have painted bleak prospects for Gerindra, tipping the party to receive less than 5 percent of the vote in 2014, despite Prabowo’s skyrocketing popularity.
The PDI-P, the Golkar Party and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party are expected to be dominant; each tipped to secure more than 10 percent of the vote.
The PDI-P is unlikely to nominate Prabowo, as speculation has it that PDI-P chairwoman and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri is inching closer to a decision to run for the nation’s top job in 2014. Megawati has also been placed at the top of the list of presidential hopefuls, according to pollsters.
Sources at the PDI-P and Golkar who declined to be named have said there is currently momentum building for Megawati to run on a ticket with former vice president Jusuf Kalla. Kalla, according to party sources, has been maneuvering to annul an earlier decision to name chairman Aburizal Bakrie as Golkar’s candidate in 2014 and bring the party into a coalition with the PDI-P.
Aburizal and his family are currently in financial woes from mounting debts that are plaguing their business empire. It will be difficult for him to grease the party’s machine and provide sufficient capital to run for president.
The handicap will likely be exploited by Kalla to steer Golkar’s elite away from Aburizal and toward the PDI-P, which has also been preparing other members to step in if Megawati decides not to run.
Megawati ran unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency in 2004 and 2009 elections.
The PDI-P’s maneuverings are making it more difficult for Prabowo’s potential presidential bid. His only hope for forming a coalition with enough support to meet the electoral threshold is the Democratic Party, which until now has yet to name a candidate.
But that may also be complicated for Prabowo, as Yudhoyono has often said that the party’s future presidential candidates will come from its younger generation of supporters.
Yudhoyono may also worry that Prabowo’s track record may undermine his glittering international reputation for advocating the high standard of human rights principles.
There is also a question of how much Yudhoyono trusts Prabowo, given the notorious temperament
of the President’s former military colleague.
Prabowo’s military pal, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Muchdi PR, even left Gerindra in 2011 over what sources said was a dispute triggered by Prabowo’s authoritarian management style. Muchdi, also a retired special-forces general, was acquitted of wrongdoing in the trial of the 2004 murder of human rights activist Munir.
A year after Muchdi’s resignation, an internal rift rocked Gerindra. The party’s founding member and deputy chairperson Halida Hatta, daughter of the country’s first vice president, Mohammad Hatta, tendered her resignation.
Left with a weaker party, Prabowo must confront the irony of a campaign that promotes egalitarianism and poverty alleviation when he himself travels in private jets and plays polo using dozens of imported horses.
Should the general’s luxurious lifestyle be more widely publicized, voters who have not forgotten his dark record in 1998 may well be turned off. No matter how hard Prabowo tries to create a distinctive image for himself as a man of the people, his bid for the palace rests with leaders if three political parties.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.