Indonesia 2024 election results show Prabowo Subianto ahead, so who is the former army commander?

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Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies, and the biggest predominantly Muslim one, is about to get a new leader. It’s a young, vibrant democracy — half of the nation’s 205 million registered voters are under 40. After polls closed on Monday the huge job of counting ballots got under way across the thousands of islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago.

Who is front-runner Prabowo Subianto?

Indonesia’s current Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto, was ahead in the polls before the vote and had a commanding lead in unofficial results Monday. With about 70% of the ballots counted, the 72-year-old former army general appeared to have captured around 58% of the vote. If he holds that lead, and gets more than 50% in the final tally, he will avoid a runoff with an outright win.

A wealthy former military man with close ties to the current government, this is Subianto’s third bid for the presidency.

Polls open across Indonesia to elect new leaders
Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto shows his ink-dipped fingers after casting his ballot papers at a polling station in Curug-Bojong Koneng Village, West Java, Indonesia, Feb. 14, 2024.

Eko Siswono Toyudho/Anadolu/Getty


He’s a controversial figure, having served as a top commander under Indonesia’s former long-time dictator Suharto. Subianto was accused of human rights abuses during that period, and was even barred from entering the U.S. at one point during the 1990s.

In 1998, he was dishonorably dismissed from the army after being linked to the abduction of more than 20 student democracy activists — 13 of whom have never been found.

Subianto’s social media rebranding

Ahead of this year’s elections, the former army commander underwent a remarkable makeover, largely via TikTok, which was hugely influential in the campaign.

Subianto used the platform to re-brand himself as a cuddly, cat-loving grandfather — and one who isn’t ashamed to cut some pretty awkward dad-dance moves onstage at rallies.

The new image appears to have won over a decisive number of young Indonesian voters, many of whom may not remember his previous incarnations.

What kind of leader would Subianto be?

Indonesia has been on something of an economic roll. The relatively small island nation has become a huge and vital supplier of nickel to the electric vehicle industry worldwide. It also produces palm oil, which is used in a wide array of food products.

Indonesia has managed to keep good relations with both China and the U.S., even participating in military exercises with the U.S. and its regional allies while keeping Chinese foreign investment flowing into a whole range of development projects.

Subianto has said he’s committed to remaining on good terms with both superpowers.

But Subianto’s critics warn that, at heart, he is a right-wing populist.

He has always denied wrong-doing linked to his time commanding Indonesian security forces, but he’s also said that Indonesia needs an authoritarian leader, and suggested it would be a good idea to abolish presidential term limits.

Democracy activists warn that Subianto is Indonesia’s next authoritarian strongman just waiting to happen.



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