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Who is Prabowo Subianto, ex-military commander running for Indonesia's president?

JAKARTA — Dismissed from the military amid speculation of rights abuses, exiled in Jordan, and once banned from the United States over his alleged dark past, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto is now in pole position to be Indonesia's next leader.

The twice presidential loser is trying his luck for a third time, with incumbent Joko Widodo's tacit backing, and the hugely popular president's son as his running mate.

The former special forces commander has undergone a remarkable transformation since being appointed defence minister in 2019, cultivating a persona that is more charismatic statesman than the fiery, pious nationalist he earlier portrayed, analysts say.

From an elite Indonesian family and once the son-in-law of late strongman president Suharto, Prabowo is accused of involvement in the kidnapping of student activists in 1998 and human rights abuses in Papua and East Timor.

The allegations are unproven, and Prabowo has always denied any responsibility.

And as the 72-year-old draws closer to the Feb 14 vote, the numbers suggest his rebranding is working.

Surveys have consistently shown Prabowo is the candidate to beat, with a lead that stretched to a huge 28 points in polls released late last week by Indikator Politik and Lembaga Survei Indonesia, which projected him winning a majority with 51.8 per cent and 51.9 per cent support respectively.

Unable to run after serving the maximum two terms, Widodo, better known as Jokowi, has signalled his support for once bitter enemy Prabowo, who he defeated in the 2014 and 2019 elections.

With his 36-year-old son as a possible vice president, Jokowi is seeking to retain some influence in government, analysts say.

By appointing Prabowo to his cabinet, Jokowi provided him with a