Jakarta – With the current Indonesian Military (TNI) chief, Gen. Andika Perkasa, reaching his retirement age on Dec. 21, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo will soon have to appoint a replacement. There is a legitimate option to extend Andika's service, but this will do more harm than good to regeneration within the armed forces.
There are three candidates eligible to succeed Andika according to the TNI Law: Army chief of staff Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, Navy chief of staff Adm. Yudo Margono and Air Force chief of staff Marshall Fadjar Prasetyo. But considering Jokowi's own promise to develop Indonesia into a global maritime axis, the TNI top job should go to the Navy this time around. Jokowi should even have named Yudo the TNI chief earlier, had he been really keen to implement his vision.
Jokowi should give Yudo the chance he deserves also because since he took office in 2014 Jokowi has never entrusted a Navy officer to lead the TNI. The President has made his long-time buddy Hadi Tjahjanto of the Air Force the longest-serving TNI commander of the reform era, while entertaining the interests of the Army by appointing Andika and Gatot Nurmantyo the TNI chief respectively last year and in 2015.
Speculation has been rife that Jokowi is tempted to give the Army another shot, in this case Dudung, possibly for political reasons ahead of the 2024 elections. From a legal point of view, Dudung should have no barrier to taking over the command baton from Andika.
The President has the prerogative to pick a TNI chief whom he trusts and can work with best, but depriving the Navy of its chance to hold the TNI top post does not bode well for the unity of the armed forces and equality between the three branches.
Dudung just recently sparked controversy after video footage showed him asking soldiers "not to stay silent" after lawmaker Effendi Simbolon criticized the TNI during a House of Representatives hearing. In his statement, Effendi highlighted disharmony within the TNI, which was indicated by Dudung's absence from the hearing.
Notwithstanding Dudung's overreaction, which civil society activists should use to prompt President Jokowi to reconsider his intention to promote the Army chief to the TNI commander post, Yudo's nomination for the job looks to fit the country's need. Regional tension is simmering as a result of competition between global powers in the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific area in general, posing a threat to Indonesia sooner or later.
Yudo's appointment as the next TNI chief would help realize Jokowi's quest to transform Indonesia into a global maritime power, which requires a strong naval force capable of protecting the country's vast waters and natural resources beneath. Besides, as the world's largest archipelagic state, Indonesia is responsible for the safe passage and security of four international sea routes, which is why naval capabilities matter.
Jokowi should not waste another opportunity to realize his maritime nation ambition. True, Yudo, if chosen, will only have less than a year to translate Jokowi's vision, but at least he can lay a solid platform for a future defense force the nation can count on.