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Indonesians on edge after Prabowo presidential win

Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn Rodrigues is a journalist for The Catholic Weekly. She also writes at marilynrodrigues.com. Email her at [email protected]
Indry Wyburn is the Secretary of the Indonesia Business Council Australia,. Photo: Supplied
Indry Wyburn is the Secretary of the Indonesia Business Council Australia,. Photo: Supplied

Sydney’s Indonesian chaplain Fr Agustinas Handoko msc is praying for his homeland following the election of a new president, Prabowo Subianto.

He is dismayed that Indonesia will be governed by a former military commander, who served in Kopassus, a special forces regiment implicated in human rights abuses during the Suharto years.

Subianto also has links to radical Islamists, which has Catholics and other minorities worried for their religious freedoms.

Fr Handoko said he will respect the election results but he would have preferred rival candidate Ganjar Pranowo, a former Central Java governor—who he believes he is a man of greater integrity.

“Prabowo Subianto does not have a good track record, he has violated human rights, and the process of nominating the new vice president was legally flawed and a violation of the constitutional court,” Fr Handoko said.

“How can we be led by a leader like this?

“I will pray for my beloved country so that the situation remains safe and peaceful after election and that riots do not occur like in 1998.”

Subianto, 72, claimed victory over Pranowo and Anies Rasyid Baswedan, former Jakarta governor, as initial counting showed he had reached more than 50 per cent of the 14 February vote.

That was despite allegations of serious human rights abuses and claims he benefitted from election fraud and nepotism.

Other Catholics also greeted the news with a mixture of concern, quiet resignation and prayer.

Chris, an Indonesian-born Sydney Catholic, said religious freedom of minorities, including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, may be imperilled if it suited the new president to use the steady growth of extremist Muslims in Indonesia to stay in power.

“Even during the first and second periods of [outgoing president] Jokowi’s presidency the persecution of non-Muslims was on the rise, with the prime example being Ahok [Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the first non-Muslim governor of Jakarta in decades, who in 2017 was given a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy],” he said.

Robert Pratickna, parishioner of St Agatha’s church in Pennant Hills, said the country will remain stable and the new president would not make life difficult for Christians.

“Indonesia feels generally safe for Christians and I don’t think that will change,” he said.

“There is a small percentage of radical Muslims in Indonesia but they don’t really bother us, most people there are very tolerant.

“Never in my life have I felt threatened or unable to worship there because of my Catholic faith.

“One problem is that it’s almost impossible to get approval to build new churches in Indonesia but Catholicism itself is growing there.”

Another Sydney-based Indonesian Catholic, Frans Simarmata, thought it will be “business as usual” but did not believe Subianto should have taken Raka as future vice president and did not vote for him.

He also wanted to be loyal to victims of the 1998 riots, some he knows personally.

“I didn’t want to betray their sacrifices,” he said.

Secretary of the Indonesia Business Council Australia, Indry Wyburn believed either Subianto or Pranowo, with whom she had worked on several projects, would lead Indonesia well in areas of economy and national security.

“Even though I hold Australian citizenship my heart is still in Indonesia, and I have many family members and friends there,” she said.

“Mr Subianto has been accused of being behind the 1998 riots, but we have no way of knowing what really happened.

“I told my friends that as Catholics we try to support good candidates based on the best knowledge that we have and then we just have to pray and leave it in God’s hands.”

Subianto is accused of war crimes in East Timor during the 1980s and 90s when he served in and later led the Indonesian army’s special forces unit Kopassus, and of having a role in inciting deadly riots in Jakarta in 1998 that have scarred the memory of a generation.

He also won despite a damaging documentary released days before the election, accusing current president Joko Widodo of changing the law to allow his eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, to be Subianto’s running-mate.

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