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Luhut's son-in-law takes helm of Army

Jakarta Post - November 30, 2023

Yerica Lai, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo swore in new Army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Maruli Simanjuntak, a family member of a close ally to the President, on Wednesday, despite concerns among civil groups that the outgoing president was trying to retain power by installing loyalists in top positions.

Maruli's promotion to the Army's top post marks the rise of yet another of Jokowi's former aides and loyalists to one of the country's most strategic institutions ahead of the February presidential election, in which his eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka is running as a vice presidential candidate.

Maruli, 53, is the son-in-law of Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, a long-time ally of Jokowi who has often been dubbed as "super minister" because of his key role in shaping and implementing Jokowi's policies.

Maruli succeeded Agus Subiyanto, who became the shortest-serving Army chief of staff – serving only 27 days in office – before he was promoted to the Indonesian Military's (TNI) highest post earlier this month. Maruli previously led the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), the 40,000-strong main strike force of the army.

In his first official statement after his inauguration at the State Palace, Maruli reiterated his commitment to ensuring that the Army's rank and file would remain neutral in the lead up to next year's presidential and legislative elections.

"I personally would not gamble with the well-forged reputation of the Army for such a thing as [being impartial]; I have no desire for such a thing. If we, particularly in the Army, are not neutral in the general election, this will cast a long shadow in our history," he said.

He claimed that maintaining the army's neutrality was one of the tasks that the President had assigned to him before he assumed the post to maintain public approval of the military.

Maruli promised tough sanctions on any personnel who were found to break rules or take sides with certain candidates. "Nowadays, it is not hard to find any evidence. People can record anything in [smartphone] videos. The army will respond to this fast," he said.

Maruli once served as the commander of one of four units of the Presidential Security Detail during Jokowi's first tenure and later as the commander of the Warastratama Military Resort Command, which covers several regencies in Central Java and is based in Surakarta, Jokowi's hometown.

Conspicuously present during Maruli's inauguration was his father-in-law Luhut, who took a short break from his month-long medical treatment at a hospital in Singapore following an undisclosed illness.

Luhut has several times hinted at his support for the presidential bid of frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, who is running with Gibran as his running mate, and has defended the pair after Gibran's candidacy drew public criticism that Jokowi was trying to establish a political dynasty before he stepped down.

The senior minister's nephew, Pandu Patria Sjahrir, an influential business leader, has joined the campaign team of Prabowo and Gibran as the deputy treasurer.

Gibran's vice presidential candidacy has ignited concerns from two presidential contenders, Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, and some observers, that the military and state apparatus could mobilize support for Gibran and Prabowo.

Ghufron Mabruri of rights group Imparsial, urged the military leadership, including Maruli, to address these concerns by demonstrating their impartiality ahead of the February election.

"It is reasonable for the public to question whether the recent appointment of Jokowi's ally to the strategic post in the TNI will affect the institution's neutrality," Ghufron said, adding that the mobilization of military personnel, especially from the army, to influence the course of an election, is not unheard of.

In the 2014 presidential election, for example, there were numerous news reports that suggested the Army's village supervisory non-commissioned officers (Babinsa) tried to convince members of the public to vote for certain candidates, according to Ghufron.

"The army is the largest standing force in the country as it has territorial instruments down to the lowest level – the subdistrict military commands, or Koramil – all over the archipelago," he said.

With such an organizational structure, the Army has always become a strategic force in the lead up to elections as it could effectively marshal public support for a certain candidate, Ghufron said.

Source: https://asianews.network/luhuts-son-in-law-takes-helm-of-army