Prabowo Subianto vows to put farmers first in Indonesia power bid

Prabowo Subianto hopes to ride to power in Indonesia with pledge to put farmers first in a 'people economy' geared to fostering nationalism

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 11:09pm

Prabowo Subianto, a former general turned presidential candidate, is raising his own herd of cattle as he seeks to woo Indonesia's farmers with a promise to make them the centrepiece of a push to revitalise the economy.

Prabowo, 62, would build a "people economy" and boost funding tenfold for the agriculture that 70 per cent of Indonesians depend on for a living, he said at his ranch in Sentul, near Jakarta. The former chief of the army's special forces wants to cut dependence on food imports and foster "Indonesian nationalism".

An election in July for the presidency of the world's third-biggest democracy is shaping up as a contest of personalities.

Prabowo, leading the Great Indonesia Movement Party or Gerindra, is pledging to limit exports of natural resources.

Another candidate - Golkar party chairman Aburizal Bakrie - also sought to tap a protectionist mood as Southeast Asia's biggest economy seeks to cut dependence on imports.

Prabowo trails Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo in popularity, according to a survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia, with Widodo announcing his candidacy on March 14 for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P. Gerindra needs to win at least 20 per cent of seats in an April parliamentary vote, more than polls forecast, or under election rules Prabowo must form a coalition to stand for president.

"Of course I will try to work with all sides," Prabowo told Bloomberg TV. "I am sure there are good people in every party. Why can't we bring these good people together to work for the good of the nation?"

Indikator Politik surveyed 1,720 people from January 18 to February 2. It found Widodo would win 41.5 per cent of the vote, followed by Prabowo with 16.3 per cent. Respondents scored Prabowo, once a son-in-law of former dictator Suharto, highest as a candidate who was firm and authoritative.

Prabowo, chairman of the Indonesia Farmers' Association, said farmers needed the right technology and techniques for seeds, irrigation and storage to be competitive. He would lift spending on agriculture to 10 per cent of the budget, from 1 per cent now.

"I see two sides of Indonesia, one that's living in the 21st century, the other, in the villages who are left behind," he said. "There needs to be affirmative action."

Prabowo's own farm has 75 cows. "We must be self-sufficient especially when it comes to milk, it's protein for our nation," he said.

The successor to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, another former general who has to step down this year after a decade in power, will inherit an economy growing at its slowest in four years and a persistent trade deficit that turned the rupiah into Asia's worst-performing currency last year.

Prabowo said a fundamental problem was the management of the archipelago's resources, including land and water. Lawmakers passed a trade bill in February that enables the government to restrict exports and imports to protect local industries.

"The land is Indonesia's but we let it be controlled by parties who are taking it," he said.

Prabowo said he had no plan to nationalise foreign company assets but would "hammer out" terms with foreign investors. The current government is seeking to renegotiate tax and royalty terms with miners.

Prabowo has previously been denied a visa to enter the US for his involvement in violence following Suharto's fall in 1998.

On foreign policy, Prabowo said Indonesia should be friendly to both Japan and China, and that should not conflict with Indonesia itself becoming "proud".

"Nationalism is good," he said. "Japan is nationalist, China is nationalist, America is nationalist. They are allowed to. I want to tell the Indonesian people, hey Indonesians you are not a nation of losers."