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Jokowi consolidates influence over TNI as elections loom

New Mandala - December 4, 2023

Muhamad Haripin & Adhi Priamarizki – On 22 November, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo inaugurated General Agus Subiyanto as the new chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or TNI). Agus' appointment raised eyebrows for a number of reasons.

One was the premature process of his nomination. General Subiyanto went from Army Chief of Staff (Kasad) to TNI Chief in just less than a month. Another was that his military career showcased an interesting track record, with the general having held a number of positions that intersected with President Jokowi's political career. Agus was Commander of Surakarta Military District (Dandim 0735/Surakarta) in 2009-2011 when Jokowi was the mayor of the Central Java city (which is colloquially known as Solo). In 2020-2021, he served as a commander of Presidential Security Forces (Paspampres), which provide close personal protection to the president and other VIPs.

A similar situation happened before when Jokowi appointed Hadi Tjahjanto as TNI chief back in 2017. Hadi was a former commander of Adi Soemarno Air Base in Solo (2010-2011), also during Jokowi's mayorship. The pattern also occurred in the appointment of Police Chief (Kapolri) Listyo Sigit Prabowo in 2021. Listyo served as Solo's police chief (Kapolres) in 2011 and Jokowi's presidential adjutant in 2014.

The elevation of Agus Subiyanto has completed Jokowi's concerted effort to cement his political power amidst the upcoming national elections in 2024. As an incumbent in his last year of office, Jokowi has gone the extra mile to ensure that he is surrounded only by trusted confidantes who have supported him and will remain loyal to him.

How do we explain the pattern of top military leadership appointments during Jokowi's presidency? In what ways has the placement of the "president's men" as top military leaders consolidated Jokowi's influence over the military?

From mandala politik to personalistic relationships

In the early part of his first term, Jokowi was practically a lame duck president. Though he and then vice president Jusuf Kalla got a majority of votes in the 2014 elections, and were supported by a massive number of volunteers, Jokowi soon realised that he must accommodate not only PDI-P, the political party that nominated him, but also other coalition parties.

A collision of interests between Jokowi and the parties first appeared when Jokowi nominated, then cancelled, the nomination of Budi Gunawan, then a police commissioner general, as national police chief. Budi had been reported to have a suspicious amount of money in his bank account, and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) announced him as a suspect in a graft case. But his nomination to lead the police force was strongly supported by PDI-P. Jokowi's relationship with PDI-P fell into crisis after Widodo cancelled Budi's nomination after a public outcry.

Jokowi reacted to the unstable political situation by forging a political alliance with the military, and to some extent the police. He consolidated support by appointing military figures over whom he could best assert his influence, establishing himself as the centre of influence, or mandala politik. This strategy was reflected in the appointment of Gatot Nurmantyo as TNI chief in 2015 and Tito Karnavian as police chief in 2016. Jokowi appointed these figures because their alternatives were seen have relatively closer relations with PDI-P. Jokowi then strengthened his influence over the military by accommodating the expansion of its role in non-defence affairs – such as signing MoUs of cooperation with various civilian ministries and state-owned enterprises, and harnessing its ability to conduct so-called "military operations other than war" (operasi militer selain perang, or OMSP), particularly on counter-terrorism.

Another hit to Jokowi came in the form of the massive 2016 rallies organised by Islamist groups – which coalesced into the 212 Movement – calling for the arrest of Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, Jokowi's successor as governor of Jakarta, on charges of religious blasphemy. The problem for the president was that his TNI chief Gatot Nurmantyo seemed to side with the Islamist masses (though Gatot later denied accusations along those lines). On other occasions, Gatot did not hesitate to criticise then defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, his then army chief of staff, and the national police. Gatot's maverick, if not erratic, behaviour as TNI chief made Jokowi anxious about whether he could exert full control over the armed forces. On top of that, Jokowi's relationship with PDI-P remained unstable, due to the ongoing political tug of war between the president and PDI-P party chair, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Source: https://www.newmandala.org/jokowi-consolidates-influence-over-tni-as-elections-loom