Indonesia’s Widodo awards likely successor Prabowo with 4-star general rank

President Joko Widodo honours likely election winner, but rights groups say move embarrasses army given his controversial past.

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto
Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, right, receives four-star general epaulets from President Joko Widodo during a ceremony in Jakarta [Achmad Ibrahim/AP]

Indonesia’s outgoing President Joko Widodo has awarded his likely successor, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, an honorary four-star general rank.

Prabowo, who earlier this month won the country’s presidential election in a landslide according to unofficial quick counts, was given Indonesia’s second-highest military rank, usually held by the country’s military officer.

“This honour is a form of appreciation, it reaffirms devotion to the people and the country. I would like to say congratulations to General Prabowo Subianto,” Widodo, also known as Jokowi, said on Wednesday before attaching lapels with four gold stars on the 72-year-old’s blazer.

The award marks the culmination of a decades-long rebrand for Prabowo, who was a former lieutenant-general and commander of the army’s special forces known as Kopassus, who were accused of human rights abuses, including the 1998 torture of 22 activists who had opposed former leader Muhammad Soeharto, Prabowo’s former father-in-law.

Human rights groups had claimed that Prabowo was involved in a series of violations in East Timor in the 1980s and 90s when Indonesia occupied the now-independent nation.

Commenting on his awarding, Gufron Mabruri, the executive director of the Indonesian rights group Imparsial, told The Associated Press news agency: “Giving [Prabowo] Subianto an honorary four-star title with his track record in the military, and allegations of involvement in cases of human rights violations, will embarrass the honour and dignity of the Indonesian military.”

Indonesia election
Prabowo Subianto (C) dances on the stage during a gathering with supporters in Jakarta on February 14, 2024 [File: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]

Prabowo, who has always denied any wrongdoing, was a three-star lieutenant-general before his dismissal from the military in 1998.

Following his discharge, Prabowo sought self-exile in Jordan, but in the decades since his return to Indonesia, he built an influential political party and civilian career.

In 2014 and 2019, he lost consecutive presidential bids to Widodo before being brought into the government as defence minister in 2019.

The relationship between Prabowo and Widodo has strengthened considerably in recent months, especially after Widodo’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, became Prabowo’s vice presidential running mate.

Prabowo’s election win is not yet official, with early tallies showing the defence minister with 55 percent of the vote.

If the official count confirms his election, he will be inaugurated as Indonesia’s next president in October.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies