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Indonesia's Subianto suggests centralized power to fight graft

'Clean government' needed to bring back foreign capital, ex-general says

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, center, campaigning Saturday in Ciamis, West Java, ahead of the April 17 election. (Photo by Jun Suzuki)

JAKARTA -- Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto hinted he would concentrate power in the hands of the central government if elected, reversing a longstanding trend as he promises to tackle corruption and grow the economy.

Subianto -- who leads the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, Indonesia's largest opposition party -- spoke Saturday with Nikkei and other outlets on a flight to Jakarta from a campaign stop, a week and a half before the April 17 election.

Shifting power to local governments increases corruption, argued Subianto, a former army general who is running against incumbent President Joko Widodo again after a failed campaign in 2014.

While Widodo's administration has tried to combat graft, it remains a problem. The chairman of a ruling-coalition party was recently ensnared in a bribery case. On the local level, permits for land development are a hotbed of corruption.

Returning power to the central government will reduce graft, Subianto said. He contends that this will make the economy more productive, boosting growth.

In terms of specific measures, the candidate said he would employ technology to streamline Indonesia's bureaucracy and use the money saved to increase pay for government employees. He cited Singapore, where civil servants are paid well and corruption is low, as a model.

"Pay well and demand honest work," he said.

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks with Nikkei on a flight to Jakarta on April 6. (Photo by Jun Suzuki) 

Subianto also suggested that tackling graft could help lure back foreign capital, which he said he would welcome to accelerate Indonesia's economic growth. Foreign direct investment declined last year.

"Clean government, the rule of law, no corruption," he said. "How can [foreign investors] earn money in a corrupt atmosphere?"
All of the major infrastructure projects being undertaken under Widodo would be reviewed, with a focus on whether they are profitable or otherwise make economic sense, Subianto said.

Subianto -- who was a son-in-law of the late strongman Suharto and has emphasized his own military experience -- stresses strong leadership, in contrast to his opponent's more grassroots-oriented style. "There must be a real politics from the top," he said Saturday.

While major polls had showed Widodo leading Subianto by 20 points or so, the gap has narrowed slightly as the race enters the final stretch. Both sides are doing all they can to secure support before the campaign period ends April 13.

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