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“Indonesia is on a Different Path”: U.S.-Trained General Defeated After Alleged Plot to Rig Vote

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An initial count in Indonesia’s hotly contested presidential election shows Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo has a several-point lead over former army general Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo has refused to concede defeat, and official results won’t be known until after July 20. The American journalist Allan Nairn recently reported Indonesian forces tied to Prabowo have waged a campaign to rig the election in his favor, including “ballot tampering, street violence and threats” against rivals. Prabowo, who received military training by the United States, has been accused of mass killings when he headed the Indonesian special forces in the 1990s. Nairn’s reporting on Prabowo became a major issue in the campaign, and Prabowo has filed criminal charges against him for inciting hatred against the Indonesian military. Joining us from Indonesia, Nairn argues that despite supporters that include “killer generals,” Widodo will be more responsive to calls to reform the country’s corrupt political system if popular movements pressure him to do so. “It is very unlikely [Widodo] would respond by opening fire as the Indonesian army has in the past, and as Prabowo undoubtedly would,” Nairn says. “He would probably respond by sitting down with people and saying, ’Let’s work something out.’”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at Indonesia’s hotly contested presidential election. A quick count shows Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo has a several-point lead over former army general Prabowo Subianto. But Prabowo has refused to concede defeat. Official results won’t be known until after July 20. On Wednesday, both Widodo and Prabowo addressed their respective supporters and claimed a mandate to lead the nation.

JOKO WIDODO: [translated] The fate of Indonesia is decided by us. We want a better Indonesia. We want all Indonesians to be healthy. We want our people to be educated, and we want our people to be civilized.

PRABOWO SUBIANTO: [translated] We’re thankful that all the data show that we, the candidate team number one, Prabowo-Hatta, have received the support and mandate from the people of Indonesia.

AMY GOODMAN: The American investigative journalist Allan Nairn recently reported Indonesian forces tied to Prabowo have waged a campaign to rig the election in his favor, including ballot tampering, street violence and threats against rivals. Prabowo, trained by the United States, has been accused of mass killings when he headed the Indonesian special forces in the '90s. Nairn's reporting on Prabowo became a major issue in the campaign, and Prabowo has now filed criminal charges against him, including inciting hatred against the Indonesian military. Indonesia’s presidential vote will mark its first-ever transfer of power from one elected leader to another.

For more, we go to Jakarta, Indonesia, where we’re joined by Allan Nairn.

Allan, welcome back to Democracy Now! We’re talking about the nation’s—we’re talking about the world’s largest Muslim nation. Can you talk about the significance of what at least the quick count indicates, the victory over Prabowo Subianto, the Indonesian general?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, I think this is a historic day. The prospect of fascism has been turned back in Indonesia. General Prabowo, who, by all accounts, lost, although has yet to concede it, is a mass killer. He, for years, worked for the government of the United States. He has called for abolition of the direct vote. He has mused about fascism and dictatorship, as he was talking to me. He has said that Indonesia is not ready for democracy. But he almost won. He was on the verge of victory, because of lots of money behind him, because of the covert operation he launched using the state’s own special forces and intelligence illegally to try to fix the election, and because he ran on a platform that was the opposite of his record. He ran as a defender of the poor, he ran as an opponent of the United States, when, in fact, for years he has helped the U.S. [inaudible], and for years, as he told me and as Pentagon documents verify, he worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and with U.S. special forces.

And this could have been a turning point that led back to the prospect of deep repression, as in the Suharto days, a rollback of freedom of speech, increased danger for advocates for the poor and for small farmers and small traders and people who fish for a living and those who dare to stand up against the army and the police. It was a real danger in the air, just 24 hours ago. But now I think it is dissipating. Now I think in Indonesia will be on a road where real progress is necessary—is possible if a popular movement can mobilize, because there are indications that Joko Widodo, Jokowi, the apparent president-elect, might respond positively if there is a mass popular movement demanding economic justice and demanding that killer generals be brought to justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Allan, during one of his last official campaign rallies in West Java, presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto vowed to prevent Indonesia from turning into a kleptocracy.

PRABOWO SUBIANTO: [translated] We are a democracy, and democracy is people power. But there is someone who would change it into a kleptocracy. And you know that the “klepto” means thieving or stealing. So the thief wants to be in power.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Prabowo talking in West Java. Allan Nairn, your response?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the main thieves in Indonesian politics were on Prabowo’s ticket. The most notorious oligarchs and corrupt government bureaucrats were backing him. This was his campaign method: He ran as the opposite of what he was. And he’s a very good public speaker. He’s a much better public speaker than Widodo. He’s a powerful demagogue in his style. And that’s one reason why he had a chance to win, why he was on the verge of victory. But in the end, enough people came out, they stood up, and, apparently, by all accounts, the general has been turned back.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain who who they call Jokowi is?

ALLAN NAIRN: He’s a civilian. He’s a political phenomenon. He came to prominence in the last year as governor of Jakarta. He became famous because he went to speak to the poor. And in his style and manner of speaking, the poor, people from the poor majority, will tell you that “he talks like one of us,” that he seems to have a certain sincerity. Now, it’s remarkable, because he comes out of a very corrupt political system that is still dominated by the army. His supporters include a number of the worst killer generals. But there’s a widely accepted sense that he is different, his personality. And I actually agree with that, even though I haven’t met the man yet. But all indications are that that may well be the case. But unless there is a popular movement that puts pressure on Jokowi, there can’t be progress. But if there is, he probably—it’s very unlikely that he would respond by opening fire, as the Indonesian army has in the past and as Prabowo undoubtedly would. He would probably respond by sitting down with people and saying, “Let’s work something out.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Allan, what about the elections themselves that were carried out? Were there any major problems? What was the level of participation? And could you explain this quick count versus an actual count, that will have to wait until July 20th?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the turnout was very high. People at the grassroots are more serious about politics in Indonesia than they are in the United States. I spent Election Day in a poor, working-class neighborhood, and there was a real sense of seriousness and responsibility as people were walking to the polls. They don’t view politics as a game, as so many Americans do. At the same time, the election was facing this covert operation from Kopassus, the U.S.-trained special forces, and BIN, the intelligence agency, which has a liaison relationship with the CIA. It’s not clear if the U.S. had any connection to this covert operation. It was enacted by the Prabowo people, with apparent support from the current Indonesian president, General Susilo. But they were working to mess with the ballot boxes, to use street violence to try intimidate the Jokowi supporters. But as of this moment, it looks like it hasn’t succeeded. [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, we’re having some—

ALLAN NAIRN: This quick count, which [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re having some—

ALLAN NAIRN: —with actual ballots—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re having some trouble hearing you. But as we wrap up, if you could summarize what has happened in the revelations that you exposed in this last two weeks of this campaign against Prabowo, based on interview you did with him, what, some decade ago, that you started to write about now, and his response to those revelations?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it became a major issue in the campaign. I quoted him talking about fascism and dictatorship, saying the country wasn’t ready for democracy, endorsing [inaudible] massacres if they’re committed in remote villages, and insulting a former president of Indonesia who is something of a revered figure—he’s a civilian, a Muslim cleric, highly respected. And all of these things, especially the insult of the former president, Gus Dur, became major issues in the campaign.

The Prabowo campaign attacked me. We went back and forth. They called for my arrest. I said, “Go ahead.” And they backed down. But then, because they got so much criticism for backing down, [inaudible] for backing down, the final act of the campaign was to file criminal charges against me, for insulting—for inciting hatred against the army, in part. For whatever reason, Prabowo narrowly lost, and Indonesian history is on a different path.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, I want to thank you for being with us. Allan Nairn is an investigative journalist, reporting from Indonesia for years, has been exposing government killings of civilians. And we’ll continue to follow up on Indonesia’s presidential elections. The final results will be announced on July 20th.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to Glenn Greenwald’s latest exposé in The Intercept identifying five prominent Muslim Americans spied on by the National Security Agency and the FBI. Stay with us.

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