Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, right, has been tasked with establishing a line of communication between his former subordinate, Prabowo Subianto, and President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, following last week's divisive election. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)

Luhut as Jokowi's Envoy; Can Military Esprit de Corps Ease Rising Political Tensions?

BY :CHRISTIAN LEE & MUHAMAD AL AZHARI

APRIL 22, 2019

Jakarta. Korsa, or common loyalty shared by members of a specific group, apparently does matter and plays an important role in political communications in Indonesia, especially when one presidential candidate is a former military strongman.

Political tensions have risen in the world's third-largest democracy since last week's election, especially after several pollsters released quick-count results showing a win for the incumbent, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin.

The losing side, Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno immediately rejected the quick-count results, accusing their rivals of having cheated in the election by leveraging Jokowi's status as incumbent president to sway the neutrality of government agencies, civil servants, the police and even the election organizer and election watchdog.

While Prabowo's attitude may not be surprising, as it took him several months to accept the official result in the 2014 presidential election, this time he has repeatedly declared victory based on his camp's internal data, while also threatening "people power" or mass mobilization of his supporters.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) is meanwhile expected to only announce the official result after May 22.

These threats from Prabowo's side have raised concerns from many, including the political elite, fearing that such action could damage national unity.

Enter the Envoy

Jokowi's camp also did not stand still. On Thursday last week, a day after the April 17 election, the president said he would send an "envoy" to Prabowo's camp. While Jokowi was elusive about the identity of this person at the time, Prabowo's camp, through his younger brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, has since leaked the information, saying Jokowi's man for the job is Luhut Binsar Panjaitan.

Many may agree that the one person in Jokowi's camp who could dare use military esprit de corps to reach out to Prabowo, an Army general during the authoritarian regime of President Suharto, it would be Luhut, who certainly has the clout and gravitas to do so.

Luhut was Prabowo's senior in the military, and according to tradition, a junior must always respect a senior. Both began their military careers in ‎the Special Forces Command‎ (Kopassus). While Luhut was commander of Detachment 81/Counter-Terrorism in the early 1980s, Prabowo was his deputy.

Prabowo's supporters made cynical comments about the news on Saturday, saying the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) chairman was unlikely to meet Luhut, as he is still busy monitoring the KPU's vote recapitulation and mobilizing his supporters across the nation to keep a close eye on proceedings.

"Until tonight, Mr. Prabowo has yet to decide whether to meet Jokowi's envoy, Mr. Luhut, at the Kertanegara house," Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, spokesman for the candidate pair's national campaign team, tweeted on Saturday night, referring to Prabowo's family residence in South Jakarta.

On Monday, Luhut broke the ice by claiming that he had called Prabowo, who has run as a candidate in three presidential elections since 2004.

"I have called Prabowo; we spoke on the phone. Yes, we are friends. We had a good conversation. We had a laugh together and yes, we have set an appointment for a meeting," Luhut told reporters at the Presidential Office in Central Jakarta.

He was asked by several journalists about Jokowi appointing him to meet with Prabowo.

Luhut, who served as chief security minister under Jokowi between July 2015 and July 2016 and who is now coordinating minister of maritime affairs, said on Sunday that he intended to meet Prabowo. However, he said at that time that Prabowo was suffering from the flu and that the meeting had to be rescheduled.

He has not confirmed when he would meet Prabowo.

"I will call him again. We used to call each other. Prabowo is a good man. I want to convey that over the phone, we had a good conversation. We laughed and had a nostalgic chat about the past, then we set an appointment to meet and have a meal together," Luhut said.

He added that he could possibly meet Prabowo on Tuesday. "To be honest, we didn't want to reveal this to the public, but because [my role as envoy] has become public knowledge, well, why don't I reveal it now?" he said.

Hashim has confirmed that his elder brother had not been available to meet with Luhut due to his health.

"Let's wait until he recovers, because Mr. Prabowo is not feeling well," Hashim told foreign media on Monday.

Japanese Food

Rising political tensions over the weekend, triggered by Prabowo's defiance and his camp's plans to launch mass action across Indonesia have prompted a kneejerk reaction from investors. The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) closed 1.4 percent lower on Monday, after local investors dumped stocks in consumer goods companies, including cigarette maker Gudang Garam and soap producer Unilever Indonesia.

But Luhut said he was confident that he could get Prabowo to have a rational discussion and thus reduce political tensions.

"The Prabowo I know is a very rational person and is able to think clearly. I really want Prabowo's legacy to be as a leader who helped develop Indonesia's democracy," he said.

Luhut also sent a warning to those around Prabowo to not feed their patron with false information. "Prabowo has a high sense of patriotism; [he is] a statesman. He never wants to destroy this country with a wrong decision," he said.

When asked where the meeting would likely take place, Luhut said they agreed to have Japanese food.

Sticking to Their Guns

However, Fadli Zon, Prabowo's right-hand man and deputy chairman of Gerindra, expressed skepticism about the meeting yielding tangible results.

"What for? I have no idea. I think it's about concentrating the votes. Political lobbying can be done at another time," said Fadli, who also deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. 

"We are winning. There are thousands of examples [of Prabowo winning] and evidence of fraud on social media. The state does not want to take action," Fadli said.

"What is there to talk about? What is there to discuss? [The election is] not over. The fraud has to be dealt with," he added.

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