Kornelius Purba, Jakarta – As the supreme commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI), President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo should reprimand TNI chief Gen. Andika Perkasa and Army chief of staff Gen. Dudung Abdurachman for making public their personal feud.
Only recently has their dispute been out in the open, but previous events suggest their strained relationship had lasted for some time. Their lack of unity bodes ill for their soldiers who look up to them as their role models.
Of course, difference in opinion is common among generals, but they should keep it to themselves and prevent the discord from affecting the institution.
President Jokowi should learn from internal squabbling within the National Police, which is evident, for example, in the wake of the high-profile murder case involving former internal affairs division head Insp. Gen. Ferdy Sambo. If left unaddressed, conflict between generals can endanger national stability and security.
Factionalism in the institutions and animosity among the top brass, if happens, will only erode public trust in the TNI and the police force as the guardians of national integrity, security and order.
The President can summon both Andika and Dudung and ask them to clarify numerous reports of their disharmony.
If possible, the President can tell the two generals in a frank manner about their post-retirement careers. Jokowi apparently does not intend to extend their terms of service and may award them high-ranking government positions, such as Cabinet ministers. Andika, however, looks set to contest the 2024 elections as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate, while Dudung may take over from Andika as the TNI commander although only for less than one year.
At a glance, the two generals look to have settled their quarrel after Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Effendi Simbolon unveiled the conflict during a hearing at the House of Representatives last week. But the generals need to solve their dispute once and for all.
Effendi was forced to apologize to the TNI and retract his statement about the infighting after Dudung openly expressed his outrage. Dudung also reportedly allowed Army soldiers to vent their anger toward Effendi on social media for insulting the military.
"I apologize for my offending, and the insulting statement for soldiers, whoever and wherever they are," Effendi told a press conference on Wednesday. The legislator has often criticized President Jokowi despite them coming from the same party.
Previously Effendi had told the hearing held by House Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, on Sept. 6 his concerns about disharmony among the military top brass, especially between Andika and Dudung. Andika attended the hearing, so did Air Force chief Fadjar Prasetyo and Navy chief Yudo Margono. Dudung gave the hearing a miss, but later told the media he received an assignment from Andika when the hearing took place.
Dudung, known as an outspoken general, was reportedly offended by Effendi who linked the feud with the failure of Dudung's son to pass the entrance test for the Military Academy in Magelang, Central Java because of age and height issues. Andika confirmed it, but added that Dudung's son was eventually admitted.
"We found so many insubordinations, [so much] disharmony and disobedience. The TNI is just like a mob, worse than mass organizations, so there is no obedience," said seasoned politician Effendi.
Dudung confirmed that he had a problem with Andika. "I have a little dispute with Pak Andika," said Dudung on Wednesday. Andika, however, tried to play down the personal conflict.
While Effendi enjoys immunity as he spoke about Dudung and Andika in an official forum, he cannot say anything as he pleases. There is an impression that he, perhaps not on purpose, humiliated Dudung in public and criticized Andika in a more "friendly" manner. A lesson from the incident, if any, is lawmakers should manage to control their "mouths".
"Do not be a smart-ass. Do not assume that [Effendi] knows everything, is right about everything and is the most noble alone," Dudung said on Wednesday, adding that he had accepted Effendi's apology and ordered his soldiers to stop their attacks on the legislator on social media.
The conflict between Andika and Dudung has become common knowledge in the military and the country's elites. They will soon retire and new jobs from President Jokowi will keep them in the spotlight and publicity.
Andika will retire this November, while Dudung will end his military career in December next year. They have different characters and backgrounds. Andika is commonly perceived as elite because his father-in-law, AM Hendropriyono, is an influential senior general who is close to Jokowi. Dudung, on the contrary, came from the "working class" and is always proud of his poor family background.
Dudung has an advantage over Andika because President Jokowi owes Dudung politically. It was Dudung who dared to fight Islam Defender Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab, while the government looked afraid of taking action against the firebrand cleric for fear of being accused of criminalizing an ulema.
In September 2020, as the Jakarta Military commander, Dudung ordered his soldiers to take down all the billboards and warned Rizieq and his supporters that he would not hesitate to act harshly against them if they remained disobedient. Rizieq had just returned from his self-exile in Saudi Arabia and was testing the government's patience through the mobilization of thousands of supporters amid the mobility restrictions to contain COVID-19.
Dudung's boldness worked and the situation in Jakarta returned to normal. A few months later Dudung was appointed the Army's Strategic Reserves (Kostrad) chief and in November 2021 Jokowi appointed him the Army chief, replacing Andika who was promoted to the TNI top job.
The public has remained angered by the chaos plaguing the National Police following the murder of a junior police officer by general Ferdy. The killing and the concerted initial efforts by the police institution to cover up the crime were so unbelievable that many people believe the killing is just the tip of an iceberg. They have demanded a total reform of the police because they have become a super body and nearly without oversight.
The feud between Andika and Dudung so far has subsided, at least on the surface. But the impacts of the discord to the rank and file will likely persist. Generals must act as true officers and true gentlemen, instead of showing selfishness.
[The writer is a senior editor of The Jakarta Post.]