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Suharto moves to tighten his grip on power

The Nation (Editorial & Opinion) - June 13, 1997

The Indonesian president creates a comfort zone with the appointment of a new army chief, writes The Nation's Abu Rahman from Jakarta.

Indonesian President Suharto finally replaced army chief Gen R Hartono, one of the most powerful figures in Indonesian politics, after months of rumours and speculation.

Hartono was made Minister of Information while Lt Gen Wiranto, currently the chief of the army's strategic reserve command (Kostrad), will fill the top army post.

Hartono was born on June 10, 1941, on Madura Island off eastern Java. Aged 56, he is one year over the normal retirement age and Suharto's decision to appoint him Minister of Information came as a surprise.

The former information minister, Harmoko, is also chairman of the ruling Golkar party which he led to a landslide victory in the May 29 elections. Harmoko had held the position since 1983 and was the longest serving information minister in Suharto's leadership.

It is the first time that Suharto has replaced an aide before the incumbent minister completed his term of service. It is also the first time there has been a minister of special assignments AD the new position Suharto created especially for Harmoko. Maj Gen Soebagyo, currently the Diponegoro military commander in Central Java province, is the new deputy chief of staff.

Maj Gen Soegiono, currently the commander of the Presidential Security Guards, has been named the new Kostrad chief. The position left by Soegiono will be filled by Brig Gen Soetarto, who now is the Kostrad deputy assistant.

Meanwhile Maj Gen Mardiyono, currently the deputy governor of the army academy in Magelang, will sit as the Diponegoro military commander.

The promotion of Wiranto has long been predicted among the three-star generals as he has had a bright career.

The Yogyakarta man is a 1968 graduate of the National Military Academy and Suharto's adjutant from 1989 to 1993. He was subsequently promoted to head the Jakarta armed forces staff and then to chief of the Jakarta military area (1993 to 1996).

A territorial position such as chief of a military area command is a requirement to be the leader of the army. As one of the 1968 graduates of the National Military Academy, Wiranto was the first to sit as a chief of a military area command. When he took a course in the National Resilience Institute in 1995 he was selected as the best graduate.

Since 1996 Wiranto has sat in the prestigious position of the chief of army strategic command. It was during his tenure that the armed forces released a new regulation that the army strategic command should be led by a three-star general. It was significant that this political decision benefitted Wiranto's career.

From the regeneration of the army chiefs, there are two basic things that can explain the promotion of Wiranto. The most important is that the armed forces hastened the regeneration of its top echelons.

This was done by "chopping" its older generations, a process which is usually known as "timbre chopping". This means that because Wiranto was a 1968 graduate of the National Military Academy and Hartono was a 1962 graduate of the same academy, some generations AD the 1963 to 1967 graduates AD who are between those two graduates lost the opportunity to reach the top positions in the army. Of the "chopped" generations, it is interesting to note the 400 graduates of 1965. They all had promising careers. Once, this 1965 generation sat in eight out of ten military area commands. One prominent member of this bright generation is Maj Gen Theo Syafei, a previous Udayana military commander who now is a legislator in the House of Representatives.

It was rumoured that Theo was in the process of being moved out of the House.

The second point of note is that the army wants to keep the regulation that a candidate for armed forces chief should be a three-star general, a lieutenant general, and less than 55-years old. Because of Wiranto's promotion there are a number of three-star generals who are eligible for the position.

On June 17, Tanjung will be 58, or three years past retirement age. It is possible that he will be replaced. But it is also possible that Suharto, as the overall commander of the armed forces, will allow him to remain until he reaches 60.

Tanjung is the oldest chief of the armed forces on record. Usually, the chief is replaced around the time of the general meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly, which will elect the president and the vice president.

The next assembly will convene in 1998. Yet, it should be noted that the replacement of armed forces chiefs is fully in the hands of Suharto.

But the question of who will replace Tanjung remains. Surely, Wiranto, who has been cadred by Tanjung, stands in the best position. A recent document circulated in Jakarta stated that Wiranto had been prepared by Tanjung as chief of the army strategic command (1997) and chief of the armed forces (1998).

Usually, the chief of armed forces job is for the chief of the army strategic command. But there are other three-star generals with a chance to compete with Wiranto.

Lt Gen A M Hendropriyono is the current secretary of development operational control. He is 51 and has had a bright military career. Now he is in the same office with Suharto.

Another candidate is Lt Gen Syarwan Hamid (a 1966 graduate of the National Military Academy), the armed forces socio-political affairs chief.

In addition there are Lt Gen Sofian Effendi (a 1965 graduate of the National Military Academy) who now is the governor of Natyional Resilience Institute, and Lt Gen Tarub, the chief of general staff.

But these three-star generals are between 53 and 55 years old AD close to the age of retirement. It seems that Wiranto's only competition is Hendropriyono.

The rise of Wiranto is a "victory" for the red and white armed forces.

In Jakarta it is said that Hartono is a "green" (the colour of the Muslim party). The chief of the army strategic command affiliates himself with the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals.

With Maj Prabowo Subianto AD the chief of the elite special forces command, and Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, or Mbak Tutut AD Suharto's eldest daughter AD this green armed forces commander is rumoured to influence some promotions of army members.

On the other side there are Wiranto and some others like Bambang Yudhoyono AD the chief of Sriwijaya military command and a member of the 1973 generation of the National Military Academy AD who have long been in disagreement with the Hartono-Prabowo-Tutut trio.

Therefore, Wiranto is believed will return the "command" of the army to the red and white armed forces, which is the group that wants a neutral position in the promoting of high military officials.

Hartono once said the armed forces "cadre-ised" Golkar, but Wiranto seemed to be at a distance from Golkar.

Another aspect of the reshuffle is that it creates a more secure position for Suharto. The reason being that practically all of the important posts in the army were in the control of either his previous adjutant, his security guard or one of his relatives.

Besides Wiranto, Lt Gen Subagyo AD the deputy chief of the army strategic command AD was also the previous chief of the presidential security guard. The leader of the army strategic command, Lt Gen Soegiono, was once also a commander of the presidential security guard.

Meanwhile, the chief of special forces command is Maj Gen Prabowo, a 1974 graduate of the National Military Academy and a son-in-law of Suharto.

With such tight "security", the issue of when Suharto will resign his presidency is a matter to be decided only by Suharto himself.