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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Marked for the Top?

Suharto's son-in-law is on the fast track

By Susan Berfield and Keith Loveard Jakarta

IN INDONESIA, WHERE THE military is enmeshed in politics, army promotions are really political appointments. Brig.-Gen. Prabowo Subianto, only 45 and a son-in-law of President Suharto, is about to win his second star in seven months. The word in Jakarta is that he may be marked for the top ranks. Some even say that Suharto could choose Prabowo as his successor. Years from now, that is. In the meantime, the general has to continue to please the president and ease his fellow officers' resentment over his quick rise.

Prabowo's own family is part of the country's elite. He is the fourth child of Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, the man known as the "ayatollah" of Indonesian economics. Prabowo's brain trust - he is closely associated with the Center for Policy and Development - and spirited personality appeal to many officers. And his troops appreciate his willingness to tap business contacts - often his wife Siti Hediati, known as Titiek, and his older brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, a mogul-in-the-making - for cash to buy the latest weapons and equipment.

But it was his command of the special forces group Kopassus during the recent hostage crisis in Irian Jaya that has set him apart. Suharto was counting on Prabowo's political savvy to resolve the ordeal with as little bloodshed as possible. For four months, the general held back from military action against Free Papua Movement rebels while negotiators tried to secure the release of 26 hostages, seven of whom were European. "He was not deterred by criticism from his fellow officers that the approach wasn't working," says one foreign military attaché involved in the case. "That shows guts." When the rebels finally rejected a negotiated release, Prabowo ordered a quick strike. His troops saved all but two Indonesian captives.

Prabowo's restraint boosted the image of Indonesia's often-criticized military, and his own prospects. Army chief Hartono announced that Kopassus would be strengthened from 6,000 to as many as 10,000 troops just a few weeks after the ordeal ended May 15. Though Prabowo's promotion has yet to be announced, Hartono made clear that he supported it during the June 25 turn-out of the new Kopassus unit: "Looking at his performance, what do you think of the probability [of a promotion]?" he asked at a press conference.

Prabowo's second star seems certain; beyond that, nothing is. Being a close Suharto relative is no guarantee of success. The same theory of power and proximity was once said to be the key to the future for Wismoyo Arismunandar, married to a sister of late first lady Tien Suharto. Wismoyo also had a strong following in the military. But his marital problems distressed the first lady, and she is believed to have helped cut short his career. Suharto is likely to keep a close eye on Prabowo.

So too are those officers that Prabowo has shot past. Not everyone accepts the ascendance of the presidential son-in-law. The military is stacked with senior leaders who rose from positions as Suharto adjutants. The high profile of the Kopassus unit has also created resentment in some mainstream commands. The frustration, in turn, adds to the existing dissent within the military about Supreme Commander Suharto's attempts to weaken its role in politics. For Prabowo, rescuing the hostages may have been the easy part.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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