Jokowi takes big gamble by including fierce rival in Cabinet

JAKARTA - Indonesian President Joko Widodo took what appeared to be his biggest political gamble yesterday by including controversial former general Prabowo Subianto in the Cabinet, his main rival who has long harboured ambitions for the presidency.

Mr Prabowo, a 68-year-old former special forces commander, has been accused of human rights abuses and trying to grab power after his then father-in-law Suharto was ousted from the presidency in 1998.

An opposition leader during Mr Joko's first term and with unsuccessful runs for the presidency in 2014 and again this year, Mr Prabowo has now been named defence minister.

On the campaign trail, critics said his message, much like US President Donald Trump in 2016, amplified potential threats to the country.

In speeches, Mr Prabowo often said Indonesia was on the verge of fragmentation, exploited by unspecified foreign powers.

But after failing to overturn Mr Joko's election victory through the courts, Mr Prabowo and Mr Joko patched things up at a number of meetings in recent weeks - dismaying many of their own supporters.

"Prabowo is a huge gamble for Jokowi," said Mr Evan A. Laksmana of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, using the President's nickname.

"He could turn out to be an excellent defence minister who carries Jokowi's agenda, or he could be could be a disaster, with bureaucratic infighting with the broader security establishment and the politicisation of the defence establishment heading to 2024," added Mr Laksmana, referring to the next election.

After his swearing in yesterday, a relaxed-looking Mr Prabowo said he would immediately head to his ministry.

"I will learn the latest situation and then we will begin work," he told reporters.

Rights activists have said Mr Joko is going too far in pushing his agenda.

"The President has just handed control of the country's defence forces to someone implicated in crimes against humanity - including enforced disappearances - by Indonesia's own human rights commission," Mr Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International in Indonesia, said in a statement.