JAKARTA -It may have finished in third place, but the Gerindra Party of former general Prabowo Subianto was the biggest gainer in Wednesday's general election on the back of what party leaders and observers called the "Prabowo effect".
As Gerindra secretary-general Ahmad Muzani put it: "People want a strong, heroic figure and they like Pak Prabowo's image."
Preliminary counts showed the six-year-old party nearly tripled its vote share from 4.5 per cent in 2009 to at least 12 per cent, exceeding some pollsters' predictions.
But senior party officials hope that official results, which will be made known early next month, will be even better.
Many say Mr Prabowo's clear vision and leadership qualities appeal to a segment of Indonesians, thus contributing to the party's strong performance.
Gerindra's branding of the former military man as presidential material, which began several years ago, also boosted the party's fortunes.
"Gerindra was really set up to propel Mr Prabowo for the 2014 presidential election," said political analyst Paul Rowland.
Agreeing, deputy party chairman Fadli Zon said Gerindra has been expanding and recruiting aggressively in the past few years, as well as strengthening its structure and grassroots to position itself as a reformist party with Mr Prabowo its candidate for president. "We are consistent in the policy goals we want to push. We have declared our vision in a six- point action plan announced last year, ahead of other parties," he told The Straits Times.
Some voters unhappy with incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - also a former general, but criticised for slow decision-making - have switched allegiance to Mr Prabowo, who they feel is firm and decisive.
Nevertheless, during election campaigning, Mr Prabowo had to defend himself against charges of human rights abuses during his time in the military. He brushed these off as unproven and the issue looks to have failed to gain traction among voters.
Some of the voters who have gravitated towards Gerindra were supporters of Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party before it got tainted by graft, or those disgruntled with former ruling parties such as Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle.
One of the people Gerindra has reached out to as a possible vice- presidential ticket for the election in July is anti-graft commission chief Abraham Samad, who can help burnish its clean credentials.
Still, it is a long road to the presidency, as Mr Prabowo himself acknowledged when he told party cadres on Wednesday night:
"The fight has only begun."
This article was published on April 11 in The Straits Times.
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