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Zubaidah Nazeer
Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

Asia

Sibling support - through thick and thin

The Straits Times | Zubaidah Nazeer | Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

Mr Hashim Djojohadikusumo attending a rally during the recently concluded Indonesian presidential campaign. He is the main financial backer of his brother Prabowo Subianto, who is seeking the presidency.

THROUGHOUT Mr Prabowo Subianto's decade-long quest to be Indonesia's president, one man has been quietly engineering his political rise - his oil and gas tycoon brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo.

The 61-year-old has become the international face of his controversial older brother, selling Mr Prabowo's political vision to the foreign media, discreetly meeting diplomats and lobbying for his brother overseas.

While Mr Prabowo, 62, has been giving fiery speeches and rousing his supporters, Mr Hashim has been the more moderate voice, providing advice and, crucially, funding much of the campaign.

When asked by The Straits Times how much he had spent, the man whom Forbes listed as being worth US$700 million (S$883 million) laughed, saying it was a "state secret".

"Yes, I am rich. I have never hidden that fact. But I am one person," he said, referring to how rival presidential candidate Joko Widodo also has rich backers.

Mr Hashim founded the Arsari Group, naming it after his three children. The conglomerate's interests include paper, palm oil, mining and logistics, and had a turnover of some US$1.3 billion last year.

Mr Hashim, who has a private jet and various properties overseas, including in London, also has influential friends like Mr Nathaniel Rothschild, the scion of the famous British financial dynasty.

He has tapped such connections to help strategise Mr Prabowo's campaign and sell his image.

One of them, communications consultant Rob Allyn, said he was hired by Mr Hashim to work on Mr Prabowo's campaign since the latter contested the Golkar chairmanship in 2004.

Mr Hashim, who also produced a 33-minute documentary Sang Patriot, pitching his brother as a patriot, has been taking some fire for his brother these days

Defending Mr Prabowo during a panel discussion last month, Mr Hashim claimed the two of them were the key to Mr Joko's rise, having injected his 2012 race for the Jakarta governorship with 52 billion rupiah (S$5.8 million).

Although an open and uncontroversial investment then, he now feels betrayed as Mr Joko has fought his brother for the presidency in a race no one foresaw.

At another talk, he told diplomats and foreign journalists: "My brother is neither a psychopath nor an extremist."

And, when asked why Mr Prabowo had formed a coalition with partners tainted by graft scandals, he described it as a "tactical compromise".

He sold his brother's platform of pluralism by highlighting their family, using their example to woo the various religious groups.

"Prabowo is a Muslim, I am a Christian Protestant, my sister is a Catholic... this is our family, we hold all pillars of religion," he said, noting that they all celebrate Christmas and Idul Fitri. Born 15 months after his brother, Mr Hashim was raised in one of Indonesia's most storied political families.

Both his grandfather, Margono, who founded the central bank, and father Sumitro, a noted economist and architect of Indonesia's post-independence economy, were among the country's founding leaders.

Their father nudged Mr Prabowo into the military and Mr Hashim into business.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times, Mr Prabowo said his brother had also wanted to serve in the military.

"I was the one who said no. I told him one (of us) is enough in the Indonesian army, because at the time, the pay was so very bad... and I think this was a wise move."

Now, Mr Hashim's children, Aryo and Rahayu Saraswati, are newly elected parliamentarians who actively champion their uncle's presidency.

The brothers - who were each given middle names of their uncles Subianto and Sujono, who died in the war of independence against the Dutch - have never been closer.

Although analysts say Mr Prabowo's prospects of victory have dimmed, he is hoping for the best.

"He is tired and exhausted," said Mr Hashim, when asked how his brother felt in the days immediately after the elections.

But he added: "I am tired, we are all tired... but this does not mean we are down."


This article was first published on July 21, 2014.
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