Prabowo Subianto, Hatta Rajasa, Joko Widodo, Jusuf Kalla

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, second left, his running mate Hatta Rajasa, left, Joko Widodo, second right and his running mate Jusuf Kalla are introduced to the audience during a televised debate in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, July 5. Pic: AP.

An unprecedentedly close contest in this year’s Indonesian presidential election is raising fears that ballot counting fraud, vote buying and other irregularities could result in a “stolen” victory for the controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo’s popularity surged in the polls since his opponent Joko Widodo reached a peak lead of almost 30 percentage points back in March this year, but still appears to be trailing by somewhere in the region of three to six percent ahead of today’s ballot.

A victory for Jokowi looks set to be the likely outcome, but it is not yet beyond doubt. A well-orchestrated plot to swing the verdict through less than savoury means could result in a Prabowo triumph, given that only a very small number of ballots would need to be rigged or bought to tip the result.

Covert operations

According to award-winning US journalist Allan Nairn, best known for his intrepid coverage of occupied East Timor during the 1990s, a covert operation “designed to ensure that the July 9 vote count will be won by General Prabowo Subianto” is already under way. On the evening of Saturday 5 July, Nairn published “documented accounts of recent meetings at Kopassus [Indonesian special forces] headquarters”, revealing a campaign of intimidation and vote rigging in partnership with team Prabowo and Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN). Kopassus is the notorious special forces unit formerly under the command of Prabowo Subianto, which presided over the abduction, torture and murder of pro-democracy activists shortly before the downfall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998. The lesser known – but perhaps yet more heinous crimes committed by Kopassus under Prabowo’s watch – include mass executions of both civilians and combatants during Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor and West Papua.

Last week a current member of Kopassus contacted Allan Nairn and agreed to disclose details of the unit’s secret plot to ensure a Prabowo victory. The whistleblower spoke on condition of anonymity and asked for the date of the call not to be published. In the conversation that ensued, Nairn was told the “operation involves ballot tampering, street violence, and threats against Jokowi supporters, and could involve, in extremis, “the elimination of people” (“habisi orang”) if need be.”

As far as the whistleblower is aware, the Kopassus/BIN ballot tampering program will be focussed on manipulating the vote count at “key local precincts”, rather than a distortion of the national vote tabulation. An enormous amount of covert cash has been put aside to help rig the counting process, described by the whistleblower as “money that is not seen, money from the side of the road” (“uang itu tidak kelihatan, uang di pinggir jalan”). According to Nairn’s scoop, this stock of secret cash will be used to “play with the ballot papers” (“main dengan kertas suara”) by placing [pro-Prabowo] agents inside counting rooms or paying
off state employees who guard the ballot boxes.” The whistleblower could not reveal the source of the secret funding for the operation, however, emphasising that such matters are “very closed” (“sangat tertutup sumbernya dari mana”).

With regards to the use of violence and intimidation during the election, Nairn was told that Kopassus/BNI have employed civilian agents to “make trouble from below” (“ribut di bawah”), as well as “private Prabowo street militias” with a more organised character. The whistleblower described such militias as “having been trained, and frequently rob/ plunder wherever” (“..sudah berlatih, [dan] sering merampok ke mana mana”).

A legacy of terror

Although it is still incredibly difficult to verify any of the information disclosed to Nairn during his exchange with the anonymous Kopassus member, the details of the operation thus described do seem to be consistent with the unit’s usual style of covert action.

A previously leaked Kopassus manual stipulates that new recruits must be trained “in the tactic and technique of terror”, covering intimidation of targets and their loved ones through anonymous death threats made via call or text. In the past Kopassus has also had an extensive secret network of civilian informers to boast of, as was documented in another of Nairn’s landmark scoops back in 2010. Nairn’s latest revelations have been dismissed angrily by Prabowo’s campaign team, who have condemned the veteran journalist as an “enemy of the nation” and called for him to be deported immediately.

Nairn published the details of the Kopassus/BNI conspiracy on the back of a damning three-part series of articles exposing Prabowo’s links to big business in the US, as well as his previous role as an obedient and bloodthirsty “United States protégé” prior to the fall of Suharto. This shocking and highly publicised set of exposés made an embarrassing mockery of Prabowo’s zealous nationalism and often xenophobic rhetoric, which Nairn later referred to as a “scam” and “a 180-degree inversion of the truth.”

Unfortunately Nairn’s piece on the Kopassus/BNI plot has been comparatively underreported by both Western and Indonesian media outlets, even though – as of Sunday night – the story has been confirmed by at least one other member of the BNI. The impact of Nairn’s final pre-election bombshell therefore remains strangely limited, having caused much less alarm than it perhaps should have. With less than seven hours to go until the official vote count begins, only time will tell whether Prabowo’s infamous special forces outfit is truly willing to steal a presidential election or not. Either way, the Indonesian General Elections Commission (KPU) must endeavour to be as vigilant as possible in their overseeing of today’s balloting procedures, and must report any irregularities in a strictly non-partisan fashion. A stolen election won by an ex-general who should really be on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity would – I’m sure you would agree – be a sad day for democracy the world over.