Prabowo: Ex-general with a dark past

Prabowo: Ex-general with a dark past
Presidential rivals Mr Prabowo Subianto (left) and Mr Joko Widodo.

JAKARTA - Indonesian presidential contender Prabowo Subianto ordered the abduction of democracy activists in the dying days of dictator Suharto's rule, was once refused entry to the US over rights abuses, and used to be married to one of the strongman's daughters.

But the ex-general's dark past has done little to stop his charge for the country's top job, and he is now almost neck-and-neck with Joko Widodo - the long-time favourite who is seen as a break from the Suharto era.

His popularity has surged in recent weeks, driven by his nationalistic speeches and promises of strong leadership, and the growing likelihood of a Prabowo presidency is starting to cause unease about a potential shift towards more authoritarian rule.

Helped by his vast wealth and the crucial support of several Muslim parties, the 62-year-old has dramatically cut Widodo's once-huge lead to just a few points.

Prabowo is "extremely hungry" for the job, according to veteran Indonesia analyst Kevin Evans.

"I think he recognises this is his last serious run for it, so it's now or never. He's a man who's held great ambitions for himself and his country since he was a young fellow," Evans told AFP.

For the ex-general turned businessman, who is worth some $150 million, victory at Wednesday's poll would cap a decade-long battle to win high office in the world's third-biggest democracy.

Prabowo sought to become the presidential candidate of the Golkar party, Suharto's former political vehicle, in 2004, but was not selected.

He then left to form his own party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party, and ran for vice president in 2009 on a ticket with ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who failed to win.

The prospect of Prabowo taking charge in Indonesia has sparked concern that democratic gains made since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998 could be rolled back.

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