Prabowo is The Patriot, according to party's film

File photo of Prabowo Subianto

History, as recent weeks have shown, is never far removed from Indonesian politics.

And in the run-up to the general election on April 9, the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) party has come up with a biographical film that compresses four centuries of history into a veritable bite to convince voters that party patron Prabowo Subianto, 62, a former special forces general, has got what it takes to lead Indonesia.

Titled Sang Patriot (The Patriot), the 30-minute film was uploaded on YouTube to mark the party's sixth anniversary this month, and is being screened by party activists at gatherings across the country. "This is actually not a campaign video, but an explanation to many Indonesians who do not recognise him yet," said executive producer Hashim Djojohadikusumo, a party leader and Mr Prabowo's younger brother.

The film also seeks to put across Mr Prabowo's position on the mass violence of May 1998, which some allege that he was behind, and that continues to cast a shadow over his reputation. But its underlying message - calibrated to appeal to rural voters - is that it is not just Mr Prabowo's track record that should be assessed, but that of his family which has a history of serving the nation.

The film begins by tracing Mr Prabowo's lineage to the 17th century ruler of Central Java, Sultan Agung of Mataram, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat the Dutch from Batavia in 1629. It also highlights a more immediate ancestor, Raden Tumenggung Mangkupradja, known as Banyak Wide, who fought alongside national hero Prince Diponegoro against Dutch colonial troops in the Java War that lasted from 1825 to 1830.

Two of Mr Prabowo's uncles died, too, fighting the Dutch in 1946 during the war for independence.

More recently, his grandfather Margono Djojohadikusumo was a renowned economist at the time of Indonesia's independence, while his father, economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, was a Cabinet minister under presidents Sukarno and Suharto.

"The struggle began by his forefathers," the narrator says in the film, "is now on the shoulders of Prabowo, for a greater Indonesia."

The film also highlights key points of Mr Prabowo's military career, including the rescue of 10 hostages in Papua and his conquest of Mount Everest in 1997 at the head of a Special Forces Command (Kopassus) team.

Yet it is the film's version of events surrounding the 1998 downfall of Suharto - whose daughter Mr Prabowo married but later parted ways with - that has generated the most controversy. Mr Prabowo has long been accused of masterminding the 1998 violence and riots, which were largely directed against ethnic Chinese in Jakarta, a charge he has consistently denied.

 

The film features a former Chinese Kopassus gongfu instructor, Mr Efendi, recounting how he called Mr Prabowo during the riots, and the then general sent soldiers over to ensure that he and his family were safe.

Gerindra deputy chairman Fadli Zon alleges that the armed forces commander in 1998, General Wiranto - who leads the Hanura party and is also a presidential hopeful this year - was to blame for the tragedy of the riots.

"There are still questions that remain unresolved. For instance, why couldn't security forces keep the violence in check?" he said, noting how Mr Wiranto took several key generals to Malang in East Java for a largely ceremonial event.

At a time when both Gerindra and Hanura are gaining ground in opinion polls, The Patriot opens a new front in a bid to convince undecided voters and repackage history.

Several of Mr Wiranto's supporters say he should put out a film in response.

But Mr Ahmad Rofiq, the deputy chairman of Hanura's election board, told reporters that history can be distorted as desired, and the party was confident people can see the motives behind the film.

He said: "Mr Wiranto will not be goaded by the provocation that this film is. In good time, history will side with the truth."

Observers say that issues surrounding events in 1998 may not matter so much to voters beyond the middle class in Jakarta, and Mr Prabowo has support at the grassroots.

But they are concerned about the liberties it takes.

Historian Bonnie Triyana adds: "The film is a modern version of how court officials would write about god-kings in the past, like in the Javanese Chronicle where genealogy is mixed up with myth.

"This may have worked in the 15th century but not in the 21st, and is a misuse of history."

zakirh@sph.com.sg


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