Widodo hands Indonesia defence job to brutal rival

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has named his presidential challenger, Prabowo Subianto, as his defence minister.

The disgraced former general is accused of human rights violations and has lost two presidential elections to Widodo.

Recent student protests in Jakarta were sparked by a controversial criminal law but Widodo has reappointed justice minister Yasonna Laoly, whose policies helped stir the public outrage.

Widodo has pledgers to remove bureaucratic hurdles and build infrastructure to underpin growth in Asean’s largest economy. He has also said improving education is a top priority to encourage investment and create jobs.

“This will be a big problem if we fail to create enough job opportunities,” Widodo, 58, told parliament after his inauguration. He said Indonesia should aim to become one of the world’s top five economies by 2045.

After failing to overturn Widodo’s election victory in the courts, Prabowo (pictured) and the president held several meetings in recent weeks, irritating many of their supporters.

Son of one of Indonesia’s most prominent economists, Prabowo, 68, was also the son-in-law of the former veteran dictator Suharto who ruled Indonesia for three decades. Under Suharto, Prabowo commanded a brutal special forces unit called Kopassus and ordered the kidnapping of student activists in a botched bid to preserve dictatorial rule.

During the economic crisis that led to Suharto’s fall in 1998, Prabowo arrived at the presidential palace with a special forces unit in an attempted coup, according to the newly installed president, BJ Habibie.

Prabowo was then unceremoniously discharged for breaking the law, violating human rights and disobeying orders.

He also was accused of atrocities in East Timor before it broke away from the republic in 1999.

Prabowo’s human rights record meant he was banned from entering the US for years.

Zachary Abuza of the National War College in Washington said: “Prabowo Subianto has a long record of human rights abuses as a former Kopassus commander in East Timor. This is well documented and what got him banned from the United States.”

Widido has also removed Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Commission of much of its influence and backed legislation to limit personal freedoms.

His cabinet appears aimed at building unity among the other parties as he pushes ahead with economic development during his second term.

The backing of Prabowo’s Gerindra party gives the government a parliamentary majority of 74 per cent.

“Indonesia is going through a slide in freedom that has become the cornerstone of Indonesian democracy for the last 20 years,” said Usman Hamid of Amnesty International in Indonesia.

“The cabinet shows that his political pendulum is in the direction of efforts to achieve something without caring much for how to achieve it,” said Hamid.

Prabowo Subianto after being sworn in today. Picture credit: YouTube