In a Stilted Moment Between Prabowo and Jokowi, Hope for a Fresh Start

Reconciliation: Observers say Prabowo can underscore his desire to move forward if he attends Jokowi’s inauguration

Former Army general Prabowo Subianto, left, gestures as he stands beside President-elect Joko Widodo after a meeting in Jakarta on Oct. 17, 2014. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Former Army general Prabowo Subianto, left, gestures as he stands beside President-elect Joko Widodo after a meeting in Jakarta on Oct. 17, 2014. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Jakarta. It was an awkward conclusion to a meeting that political pundits said needed to happen before Indonesia could move on from the most fractious and bitterly contested presidential election in its history: Prabowo Subianto, the ex-general vanquished at the ballot box, offering a military salute; and Joko Widodo, the once small-town mayor who on Monday becomes leader of the world’s third-biggest democracy, answering with a stiff bow.

But the fact that Friday’s meeting happened at all was a watershed moment for Indonesian politics and a positive beacon for Joko’s incoming administration, says Hikmahanto Juwana, a law professor from the University of Indonesia who moderated one of the five presidential debates before the July 9 election.

“I’m genuinely moved, proud and overjoyed at this meeting between Jokowi and Prabowo,” he said on Friday, referring to the president-elect by his nickname.

“They’ve shown that they are both great statemen who can put their egos aside for the benefit of the people.”

Moving Forward

Joko visited Prabowo at the latter’s home in South Jakarta on Friday morning, three days before his inauguration as Indonesia’s seventh president and more than three months since the pair last met in person, before the election.

Joko won the poll with 53 percent of votes cast to Prabowo’s 47 percent, the closest margin in the country’s history, and Prabowo responded by pursuing every avenue available to have the result thrown out, alleging massive poll fraud.

The country’s highest court upheld Joko’s win, but Prabowo and his six-party Red-White coalition, or KMP, went on to score victories of their own, grabbing a majority of seats and all the leadership posts at the House of Representatives, as well as four of the five top seats at the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) — all the while insinuating they would thwart Joko’s administration at every turn.

Speaking to reporters after their brief meeting, both Joko and Prabowo said they were eager to move forward — although both also acknowledged that they would not always see eye-to-eye on some issues.

“I’ve asked my party and supporters to support Joko and the government. But we will criticize should we see policies harming the people’s interest,” Prabowo said.

He also called on members of the KMP to set aside their political differences with members of Joko’s Awesome Indonesia coalition, or KIH.

“I will tell my supporters that political competition is a normal thing, but that in the end we’re all working to achieve national prosperity and progress,” he said. “I hope the supporters don’t see the differences and competition between us as a reason to divide the people. We must stay united as one Indonesia at all times.

“I believe that Joko is a patriot and that deep down we have the same intention of safeguarding Indonesia’s unity and its Constitution,” Prabowo added.

Joko, for his part, said he recognized the need for a strong opposition to serve as a counterbalance to the government’s powers, calling it part of a healthy democratic process.

“[Prabowo] said to me that, in the future, should there be anything to criticize in my administration, I’m ready because stability in state management is very important,” he said.

“There are those who do, those who control, and those who critique. I think that’s a good thing, and I’d like to thank Prabowo for that,” Joko added.

Psychological barrier

Hikmahanto said the meeting, which coincided with Prabowo’s 63rd birthday, was a big step toward national reconciliation.

“There must have been a huge psychological barrier to overcome in having this meeting, but Jokowi showed he could get over it for the sake of national reconciliation,” he said.

“Prabowo likewise must have found it difficult to meet Jokowi, given that some of his supporters still haven’t accepted that Jokowi will be president. But, again for the sake of the nation, Prabowo welcomed Jokowi and gave him a military salute.”

Hikmahanto said both men should learn from the mistakes of 2004, when the “political grudge” held by the losing incumbent, Megawati Soekarnoputri, contributed to holding back the programs planned by the first democratically elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Arya Fernandes, a political researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also welcomed the meeting, but said the calls by both men for reconciliation would be more effective if followed up by the symbolism of Prabowo attending Monday’s inauguration ceremony.

Prabowo said he had business outside the country to attend to this weekend, but would try to be back in time for the event. JG

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