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A test of TNI neutrality

Jakarta Post Editorial - November 3, 2023

Jakarta – Few observers would disagree that the meteoric rise of Gen. Agus Subiyanto, a 1989 graduate of the Military Academy, is linked to his proximity to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Agus' nomination for the post of Indonesian Military (TNI) chief just six days after his inauguration as the Army chief, however, has raised many eyebrows.

House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani said on Tuesday she had received a letter from the President seeking the House's approval for Agus to serve as the new TNI commander, in place of Adm. Yudo Margono, who is retiring at the end of this month.

Jokowi certainly broke no rule with his choice of Agus for the TNI post, but the public has a right to question what makes him eligible for the highest military post. Agus is of course a seasoned officer with an illustrious career, but he has not proven himself yet as the Army chief.

In line with the 2004 TNI Law, Jokowi could pick the current Air Force chief of staff or Navy chief of staff, each of them having served much longer than Agus, who had deputized for then Army chief Gen. Dudung Abdurrachman for about a year.

In fact, the fast-track Agus is enjoying is not surprising compared with former National Police Gen. (ret) Timur Pradopo, who was awarded a promotion twice in a span of only 24 hours back in 2010. On the morning of Oct. 4, Timur was the Jakarta Police chief, a two-star general, by the afternoon he was installed as head of the police's Security Management Agency with the rank of commissioner general and in the evening then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) had nominated him as the new police chief.

The political setting today and that in 2010 is, however, much different. SBY was in the first year of his second presidential term, while Jokowi is now facing a decisive presidential election, which his eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka will contest as the running mate of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, despite the fact that he has been serving as Surakarta mayor in Central Java for only two years.

The Constitution grants a president the prerogative to pick the TNI chief and it is natural that Jokowi, like his predecessors, will choose his most-trusted person for the key post. Jokowi's previous preferences for TNI chief have leaned toward officers whom he has known since he was the mayor of Surakarta.

Agus was the Surakarta military commander from 2009 to 2011, when Jokowi was mayor. Fast forward to March 2020, Agus was appointed chief of the Suryakencana military command overseeing, among other cities, Bogor, where Jokowi and his family live. Eight months later Agus was named commander of the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres), a post he held for nine months before he took over the Siliwangi military commander overseeing West Java and most parts of Banten. After a six-month stint in the Siliwangi military command, Agus returned to Jakarta as deputy Army chief in February 2022.

It is obvious that Agus has always been around Jokowi over the last three years, without saying the President has groomed him to be his military commander.

Similarly, Jokowi entrusted the TNI top post to Air Chief Marshal (ret) Hadi Tjahjanto in 2017, having known him since he was the Adi Sumarmo air base commander back in 2010-2011. Hadi's path to the TNI chief post began when he served as presidential military secretary in July 2015. He was promoted to a three-star general as Defense Ministry inspector general in October 2016, before Jokowi named him the Air Force chief in January 2017, a job that made him eligible for the TNI command baton.

The timing could not be more auspicious for Jokowi to name Agus the TNI commander with the elections around the corner. Therefore, it is imperative for lawmakers during his confirmation hearing to seek Agus' commitment to the TNI's impartiality in the upcoming elections next year, which are expected to be bitterly contested.

Indonesian democracy will face make-or-break in the February 2024 election, which is why the TNI's neutrality is a must.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/11/03/a-test-of-tni-neutrality.htm