Zakir Hussain – Straits Times
Singapore. Indonesia’s presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto was seven years old when he was caught climbing the fence at the Good Shepherd Convent school near Bukit Timah Road, Singapore.
The dressing down he received from the Mother Superior meant he never dared to scale the fence again, but mixing with people from various ethnic groups stayed with him.
“We were very comfortable. This background forced a realization that Southeast Asia is a melting pot. We have a common destiny,” he said in a public lecture on Tuesday. Together with his siblings, he spent his formative years in Singapore and the region, following their consultant father, a former finance minister.
Prabowo, 60, a front runner in the 2014 presidential election in recent surveys of Indonesian voters whose nationalistic comments sparked some concern in the region, underlined Indonesia’s close relationship with Singapore and its other neighbors.
However, the former army general turned businessman also said, in reply to a question later, that nationalism will be a reality in Indonesia, just as it was in China, America and Japan during their economic transformation. It was, he added, a “desire for dignity.”
“The key is: This nationalism must be moderate, calibrated, mature and not go into extreme levels,” he said.
Prabowo did not go into specifics when asked about recent cases of economic nationalism – like DBS’ bid for Bank Danamon – and limits on foreign ownership.
“We want foreign investment, but it must be win-win,” he said.
“It must be rational, it must be cognizant of local and environmental needs, and it must be on a fair and level playing field.”
The session, organized by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Marina Mandarin hotel, is the first in a series featuring emerging Indonesian leaders, said dean Barry Desker.
It comes as parties and candidates are about to start strategizing for parliamentary elections in April 2014, and the presidential poll in June 2014.
Prabowo, chief patron of the Gerindra party, said both sides should maintain their strong ties, seen in the rapport between late president Suharto and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew that trickled down the ranks.
“I think the Singapore defense attache was in my office nearly every week,” he said.
He disclosed how in 1996 as special forces chief, he led an operation to rescue 26 hostages including nine foreigners in Papua, and flew here and secured help.
He also said Gerindra, established in 2008, was modeled on the People’s Action Party (PAP).
“We adopted the white shirt of the PAP because we admired the struggle of early Singapore leaders to create a successful clean leadership,” he said.
Singapore also stayed competitive despite having no resources, producing world-class companies like Singapore Airlines and PSA. “This is something that we must not be afraid to learn from.”
In his lecture, he elaborated on four challenges facing his country: the imminent depletion of energy resources; a population boom; weak governance, inefficiency and corruption; and a structurally imbalanced economy.
Prabowo, who chairs the Indonesian Farmers’ Union, spelt out a “Big Push Strategy” to secure Indonesia’s food supply, create jobs and revamp the economy.
This includes developing up to 16 million ha of destroyed forests in the next 20 years to produce food and bio-energy so the country can have a surplus of food that can also help feed the region.
He felt current high soy prices, which drove up prices for tempe and tofu, could have been averted had the government intervened to support planting or extend credit to farmers.
He also lamented the fact that just 3 percent of the state budget went to agriculture, which 60 percent of Indonesians depend on for a living.
In an interview, Tuesday, he said the uptick in his popularity could be because his messages address the aspirations of common people. “I talk about what they are feeling. I think that resonates with them,” he said.
On Tuesday morning, Prabowo paid a courtesy call on Singapore’s Prime Minister Hsien Loong.
They discussed developments in Indonesia and the region, said Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times