With just a little over a month until Indonesia’s presidential election on April 17, candidate Prabowo Subianto seems to be going from scandal to scandal on the campaign trail. After a video of Prabowo’s angry outburst at one of his security officers in Cianjur, West Java, went viral yesterday, today a new controversy broke regarding the Gerindra chairman’s choice of vehicle while in Cianjur.
That’s because the Toyota Alphard that Prabowo was riding around in yesterday belonged to Chep Hernawan, the chairman of the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis) who has long been a controversial figure in Indonesia for his previous unabashed support for the Islamic State (IS or ISIS).
Chep is an Indonesian business tycoon who once described himself as the “president of ISIS Indonesia”. He founded Garis to help achieve a caliphate government in Indonesia and openly boasted about helping to send 156 Indonesians to Syria to fight for IS at great personal expense.
Hernawan even defended IS’ beheading of journalists and opposition forces, telling the Associated Press back in 2015, “I’m convinced that these are religious acts based on Islamic teachings (permitting acts) that strike fear in the hearts of enemies of Islam.”
But at the time of those incidents, Indonesia had not yet passed the terrorism laws it has now that make statements of support for banned groups like IS a crime in Indonesia. Chep was arrested in connection to his terrorist ties but police say they were unable to charge him with any crime.
Which brings us to yesterday and Prabowo’s ride in Chep’s car. Prabowo’s campaign acknowledged the car’s ownership but are trying to characterize the ensuing controversy as one cooked up by President Joko Widodo’s camp.
“So what if Prabowo used the leader of Garis’ car? It’s not a problem. Has that person been convicted of terrorism? No. I think this was deliberately ‘fried’ on social media by the incumbent and his sympathizers,” Prabowo campaign spokesperson Andre Rosiade told CNN Indonesia today.
While some of Prabowo’s supporters from the far-right Islamist end of the political spectrum, such as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab, may see no problem in using Chet’s car, Jokowi’s campaigners were indeed quick to blast the vehicular choice.
Jokowi campaign spokesperson Arya Sinulingga said that as a candidate to lead Indonesia, Prabowo should refuse any donations or help from Chep or be seen as giving tacit approval of his past actions.
“If they knew then [the car] should have been rejected by him. If he knows and realizes he should refuse because ISIS is prohibited in Indonesia,” Arya told Tirto today.
It’s still too early to tell if the controversy surrounding Chep’s car or Prabowo’s burst of anger while riding it will do much to swing voters or if they’ll quickly be forgotten in the crush of the election news cycle, but based on his poor showing in the majority of recent polls, the challenger absolutely can’t afford any loss in electability now when he still has so much ground to cover if he hopes to catch up with the incumbent by April 17.