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‘Dark day for human rights’ as Indonesia’s PM appoints Prabowo Subianto as defence minister

Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, beat Prabowo Subianto in April elections to secure another term as president of the world’s third-biggest democracy.

SNS | New Delhi |


Indonesia’s newly-elected President Joko Widodo, who has been elected for the a second term, introduced his cabinet at an informal presentation on the palace steps on Wednesday, attracting criticism as he appointed his election arch-rival, a former general with a chequered human rights record, as defence minister.

More than three dozen new ministers, the vast majority of them men, sat casually in batik shirts in front of the imposing doric columns of the Merdeka Palace for the unveiling. Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, beat Prabowo Subianto in April elections to secure another term as president of the world’s third-biggest democracy.

The victory followed a bitter campaign plagued by fake news online and claims from Subianto that the government staged a “massive, systematic and fraudulent” election, which sparked deadly post-poll riots. At least nine people died in the unrest.

Jokowi’s decision has attracted criticism and disapproval from most of his supporters who do not subscribe to Subianto’s ways and means of working.

Announcing Subianto’s new role, Jokowi said, “I believe I don’t have to tell him about his job, he knows more than I do.” Rights group Amnesty International Indonesia earlier warned against appointing the former general to a top job, saying it would mark “a dark day for human rights” Subianto, a former son-in-law of Indonesia’s late dictator Suharto, was accused of abuses, including the kidnapping and disappearance of several pro-democracy activists, in the lead up to massive street demonstrations that brought down the regime in 1998.

Subianto has never been charged in relation to the allegations. Among Jokowi’s 38 ministers, former World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati was picked to serve another term as finance minister, while foreign minister Retno Marsudi kept her post.

Nadiem Makarim, 35, co-founder of ride-hailing startup Gojek, was chosen to be education and culture minister. This week, Makarim announced his resignation from running a firm valued at some 10 billion.

Wiranto, a 72-year-old former army chief, did not return to cabinet as chief security minister, according to an official list. Islamic State group-linked militants this month staged a failed assassination attempt on the powerful politician, who is recovering in hospital.

Widodo’s leadership has been under rising criticism after a wave of crises that threaten to cast a shadow over his final term. Challenges facing the president range from nationwide anti-government demonstrations, in which three students died, and smog-belching forest fires that sparked diplomatic tensions with Indonesia’s neighbours, to deadly unrest in Papua province and a slowdown in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

Jokowi’s new term also comes amid criticism that Indonesia’s two decades of democratic reforms are being eroded under the watch of a man once lauded by Time magazine as “A New Hope.” Choosing conservative cleric Amin as vice president has also thrown Indonesia’s reputation for tolerant Islam into question. Jokowi’s administration also came under fire in September’s protests that saw thousands of students hit the streets to demonstrate against a raft of divisive reforms, including banning pre-marital sex and changes that critics said would weaken the anti-graft agency.

(With inputs from AFP)