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Can “Strongman” Prabowo Subianto Take Indonesia’s Nickel Dream Away From China’s Orbit?

The front page of a local English newspaper shows Indonesia's Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto (L) and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Surakarta City mayor and Indonesian President Joko Widodo's son, at a book store a day after the country’s presidential and legislative elections in Jakarta on February 15, 2024. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

Prabowo Subianto, an ex-military commander and former son-in-law of Indonesian dictator Suharto, is finally on his way to the presidency. During the campaign season, Prabowo drummed up the promise that he would continue Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s policies, including the promise of nickel-for-battery developments. Lo and behold, it worked. Unofficial early counts show that Prabowo won by 58%, an easy victory. 

During his long and bloody career, Prabowo has crafted a “strongman” image for himself. Although this election saw him rebranded as a “cuddly grandpa”, the strongman image remains an important appeal to his supporter base. Indonesia is an impossible country, the belief goes, and only the strongest leader can make things possible.

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