Indonesia’s likely next president Prabowo awarded title of honorary general

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesia’s likely next president Prabowo awarded title of honorary general President Joko Widodo awards Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto the honorary rank of four-star general at a meeting of military and police leaders at army headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo bestowed his presumed successor Prabowo Subianto with Indonesia’s second-highest military rank on Wednesday, despite the defense minister’s links to historic human rights abuses including the alleged torture and abduction of pro-democracy activists. 

Prabowo, who is poised to become Indonesia’s next leader after the country’s Feb. 14 election, was awarded the title of honorary four-star general at a ceremony in Jakarta.

“This award is a form of appreciation as well as confirmation of one’s complete devotion to the people, nation and state,” Jokowi said on Wednesday.

Prabowo ran alongside Jokowi’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka in the election, in which the pair won more than 57% of the vote, according to unofficial counts by credible pollsters.

His victory in the polls followed a massive rebranding effort that softened his image from that of a fiery ex-general to a cuddly or cute grandfather figure.

Prabowo, who lost to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, has been dogged by his links to alleged human rights abuses throughout his political career. 

After graduating from the Indonesia Military Academy in 1974, he rose through the ranks to command the army’s elite special forces, known as Kopassus.

In 1983, he married Siti Hediati Hariyadi, the daughter of longtime dictator Suharto, and in 1998 became head of the Army Strategic Reserve Command.

That same year, he was discharged from the military after a council of honor officers found him guilty of several violations, including involvement in the abduction and disappearance of pro-democracy activists during the 1998 student protests that led to Suharto’s downfall.

Prabowo, 72, has denied any wrongdoing and said he was only following orders from his superiors. He has never been tried in a civilian court for the alleged crimes.

Last year, Jokowi acknowledged 12 severe human rights violations committed by the Indonesian state dating back to the 1960s, including the 1998 abduction of pro-democracy activists. 

Prabowo Subianto (center), alongside Indonesia’s Armed Forces Chief Gen. Agus Subiyanto (left) and National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo inspects soldiers after receiving an honorary four-star general rank in Jakarta, Feb. 28, 2024. [Achmad Ibrahim/AP]

Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director, denounced the award given to Prabowo.

“How can they reward those who were ousted by the 1998 reform movement?” he said. “Prabowo has never faced trial for the crimes he is accused of.”

KontraS, another human rights group, also objected to Prabowo’s honorary rank, saying it would strengthen the culture of impunity.

“The award will make the crimes committed or involving military personnel seem normal,” Andi Rezaldy, KontraS’ deputy coordinator, said in a statement.

“We urge the president to revoke the plan to award an honorary rank to Prabowo.”

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Nugraha Gumelar defended Prabowo being given an honorary rank.

“The decision stated that he was honorably discharged from the military so that he could still receive his rights, including pension,” he told BenarNews.

Jokowi dismissed any political motive behind the new title, saying it was based on a proposal from Indonesia’s top military commander.

“If it was a political transaction, we would have given it before the election. This is after the election, so there are no such assumptions,” Jokowi said.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto during the meeting of military and police leaders in Jakarta, Feb. 28 2024. [AFP]

Still, the award could add to concern in some corners of the public about nepotism and democratic backsliding over Jokowi’s second term.

His eldest son, Gibran, benefited from a questionable ruling by the Constitutional Court in October that paved the way for him to run as vice-president with Prabowo.

The court’s chief justice, Anwar Usman, who is married to Jokowi’s sister, was dismissed from his post in November for ethical violations linked to the ruling.

Jokowi was accused of using populist measures, such as handing out social aid early and raising salaries for civil servants, police and the military during the election campaign, which critics said were aimed at boosting Prabowo’s chances.

The president refuted any manipulation of the judiciary or favoring a particular set of candidates. 

Jokowi did not publicly endorse any candidate for president, but critics alleged that his administration had tampered with government materials and influenced the judiciary to ensure a victory for Prabowo and 36-year-old Gibran.

Khairul Fahmi, a military analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies, or ISESS, said Prabowo did not lose his rights as a military officer because he was honorably discharged.

He was still eligible to receive military honors and special ranks, Khairul told BenarNews.

“There is no legal fact and court verdict that has legal force that declares and sentences Prabowo as a perpetrator of gross human rights violations,” Khairul said.

“Until that happens, Prabowo is also entitled to the presumption of innocence.”


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