Luhut Binsar Panjaitan stands up as President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, far right, introduces him as coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister, while Prabowo Subianto, far left, looks on at the State Palace in Central Jakarta on Oct. 23. (B1 Photo/Joanito de Saojoao)

Luhut Welcomes 'Fellow Nationalist' Prabowo in Jokowi's Cabinet


OCTOBER 27, 2019

Jakarta. Luhut Binsar Panjaitan said he had no objections whatsoever to the surprise inclusion of Prabowo Subianto in the cabinet, despite their past rivalry.

In an exclusive interview aired by BeritaSatu TV on Friday night, the senior minister said he immediately expressed his support when President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo raised the possibility of appointing the two-times presidential rival as defense minister.

"I think it's good to have him with us. The president asked my opinion and I answered: 'he's a nationalist,'" Luhut said in the television program "Special Interview With Claudius Boekan."

"At least the nationalists are in the same boat now; people who share the same views on [the future] of this nation," said Luhut, who like Prabowo, previously served as a general in the Indonesian Army.

Luhut said he told the president that when it came to the Pancasila state ideology, the 1945 Constitution and the Unitary State of Indonesia, Prabowo "is just the same as you."

However, the coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister expressed concern that some political leaders and prominent figures held views different from the government on dealing with radicalism and extremism and upholding Pancasila and the Constitution.

"They don't seem to realize that this country won't take any steps ahead and become prosperous if disruptions keep occurring," Luhut said. "Look at the situation in the Middle East or some other countries; they are stricken by never-ending conflicts."

Prabowo's friend and fellow party member Edhy Prabowo is also in the cabinet, serving as maritime affairs and fisheries minister, reporting directly to Luhut.

Among the parties in the formal coalition that backed Jokowi in the April presidential election, the United Development Party (PPP) was given only one cabinet post, while the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) got none.

TV host Claudius asked whether the fact that Prabowo's Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) – considered the main opposition during the election – got two cabinet posts would cause a rift in the coalition.

"They are people with heart. Our friends in NasDem [National Democratic Party], like Mr. Surya Paloh, are nationalists too," Luhut said. 

"I don't see any reaction [to Prabowo's appointment]. The president has carefully, wisely and properly formed the cabinet. Sure, nothing is perfect, because there are so many interests involved. It's never easy to select people for 34 ministerial posts," he said.

Luhut, 72, said Jokowi's second-term administration must form a solid bulwark against radicalism and extremism. 

"This is not only my belief. All intelligence communities around the world I have met with told me that since ISIS has been pushed out of Syria, we must be prepared," Luhut said, using an alternative acronym to refer to the radical Islamic State group.

Efforts to counter radical ideologies also involve improvements in the school curriculum, from the primary level to universities, he said.

Stronger Defense

Luhut said Prabowo also responded very positively when asked to join the cabinet.

"Mr. Prabowo told the president he wanted to help, and he also spoke with me," Luhut said. "Mr. Prabowo has many ideas on defense matters. I told him he could work on them now that the president has given him a chance. I also told him the president would not intervene much in his work."

Luhut and Prabowo have also discussed defense matters with Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

"What I like about Prabowo, is that he is really committed to building a stronger defense. In the discussion between the three of us, including the head of the military, he said he wanted to make the TNI stronger, and that's good," Luhut said.

He expressed confidence that Prabowo would perform well in his post and make a positive contribution.

"I think Mr. Prabowo will not betray his promise to the president. I have known him for a long time and he is a man of his word. Mr. Jokowi is also very respectful toward him; until today, he calls him 'Mas Prabowo,'" Luhut said, referring to the Javanese term for brother.

Luhut was Prabowo's superior when both men were involved in the establishment of Detachment 81, the country's first counterterrorism unit, in the early 1980s. After attending specialist training in Germany, Luhut became the new unit's commander and Prabowo his deputy.

Luhut said he could understand why many of Jokowi's supporters were disappointed with Prabowo's ministerial appointment.

"I understand that, but it's impossible for you to have 100 percent approval from everybody," he told Claudius.

Luhut graduated from the Military Academy in 1970, four years ahead of Prabowo.

Both men had a spell in the Army's Special Force Command (Kopassus), but unlike Prabowo, Luhut never became commander of the unit.

After leaving the military, they both became involved in politics, with Luhut joining the Golkar Party and Prabowo establishing Gerindra.

They also jointly managed paper factory Kiani Kertas before Luhut went his own way to found mining company Toba Sejahtera.

They also supported Jokowi and his running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election. 

Having Luhut on his side proved to be an advantage for Jokowi to cool political tensions in both the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. When the Prabowo camp fiercely opposed the 2014 election result, Luhut successfully persuaded him to call on his supporters to refrain from staging nationwide rallies and to take the matter to the Constitutional Court instead.

Luhut performed a similar task after this year's presidential election.