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Prabowo: baby-faced grandpa or autocrat in waiting?

Ambitious and mercurial, with a dark past, former army general Prabowo Subianto has spent a lifetime vying for the ultimate prize in Indonesian politics. Now, with a large lead in the latest polls ahead of this week’s election, it looks as though the presidency is finally within his grasp.

So, who is Prabowo and how will he change Indonesia if he wins?

Rapid rise and fall through the military ranks

Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo is a true Indonesian blueblood. His family claims to be descended from national hero Diponegoro, a prince of the Mataram sultanate who led the Java War rebellion against Dutch colonial forces in the 19th century.

Prabowo’s grandfather was the founder of Indonesia’s first state bank and a prominent member of Indonesia’s independence movement. His father was a leading economist who served as minister of finance, minister of trade and minister for research in the government. His brother is a wealthy tycoon.

Prabowo, too, has long sought national prominence. An ambitious military officer serving mostly in the Special Forces (Kopassus), his marriage to a daughter of the authoritarian former president, Suharto, fast-tracked his career. Prabowo rose to the rank of lieutenant general and, finally, the key position of commander of the powerful Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) in the capital, Jakarta.

As Suharto’s regime began to falter amid the financial crisis of 1997, Prabowo became involved in covert operations to defend Soeharto’s army-backed and repressive New Order regime against its critics.

Under his leadership, the Special Forces’ “Rose Brigade” was accused of abducting and torturing more than 20 student protesters, 13 of whom are still missing, presumed dead. Prabowo has admitted to the