Aug. 21 will forever be a day of reckoning for Prabowo Subianto.
Exactly 16 years to the day that an Officers Ethics Council issued an order dismissing him from military service for his alleged role in the abduction and torture of political activists, the Constitutional Court just before 9 p.m. Thursday ended Prabowo’s protracted legal challenge of the electoral victory of president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
The court’s final verdict marked the definitive end of a poorly presented legal dispute filed by the losing ticket of Prabowo and Hatta Rajasa claiming widespread fraud in the July 9 election that resulted in a margin of victory of 8.4 million votes for Jokowi. It puts beyond any doubt the legitimacy of the current Jakarta governor who on Oct. 20 will be sworn in as Indonesia’s seventh president.
The historical coincidence speaks volumes about a man who on both occasions — 16 years apart — came to the fore with such ballyhoo yet left with a whimper.
As commander of the Army Strategic Reserves Command, then Lt. Gen. Prabowo was at the height of his military prowess but was powerless when the council of generals on Aug. 21, 1998, issued him a dismissal letter.
Over the past week, as a defeated presidential candidate, Prabowo had insinuated resistance and chaos if the court rejected his dispute. Yet as court chief justice Hamdan Zoelva struck his gavel to end the five-hour reading of the unanimous nine-judge verdict rejecting every single charge filed by Prabowo’s lawyers, the former son-in-law of Soeharto was nowhere to be seen or heard.
In fact, both Prabowo and Hatta were not seen in public at all on Thursday as the court read out 300 of the verdict’s 4,392 pages.
Prabowo continued to sequester himself and left it up to his coalition partners to enter the humiliating public spotlight in the immediate aftermath to read a joint statement reacting to the verdict. Spokesman Tantowi Yahya stopped short of conceding defeat but “acknowledged the ruling of the Constitutional Court”.
He added that even though the court’s decision was final, “it does not reflect the substantive justice”.
In a statement that was itself filled with platitudes rather substance, Tantowi said the coalition would “continue the struggle” and carry on with legal measures already being pursued along with future political ones. There was no suggestion of reconciliation from the Prabowo camp.
Fadli Zon, deputy chairman of the Gerindra Party, said Prabowo for now plans to rest “and does not want to think about politics, including whether to run in 2019”.
Later in the evening, both Jokowi and vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla appeared together, thanking the court for its work.
Jokowi toned down any animosity with his rival, saying that he and Kalla were “good friends” with Prabowo.
Kalla praised the court for its impartiality and handing down a unanimous decision despite several judges having been political members “from the other side”.
Hamdan was a member of the Crescent Star Party (PBB), while justice Patrialis Akbar was part of the National Mandate Party (PAN). Both parties are key members of Prabowo’s coalition.
Trimedya Panjaitan, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) legal office, conceded that initially there were some worries as to the court’s consistency in reviewing the case.
“However, the court was able to elaborate on its arguments in a structured and systematic way, clearly and thoroughly,” he said.
There is little recourse the fallen candidate can now pursue.
“Prabowo and Hatta can do nothing to change it,” constitutional law expert and Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro) senior researcher Refly Harun told The Jakarta Post.
Refly called on Prabowo to accept the ruling, saying that any further efforts, including filing a lawsuit with the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) or setting up a special committee at the House of Representatives, would be futile.
“It will be to no avail because it won’t change the court’s ruling,” Refly said.
A member of Prabowo’s legal team, Elza Syarief, has suggested the court’s ruling would not end Prabowo’s efforts to vindicate himself.
Constitutional law expert from the Bandung-based Parahyangan Catholic University, Asep Warlan Yusuf, further stressed that any other legal recourse pursued would change nothing.
“That’s the end of Prabowo and Hatta!” he emphasized. JP