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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
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From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
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Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

A Split Within the Ranks

Jakarta is abuzz with talk of a military shakeup

By Susan Berfield and Keith Loveard in Jakarta

INDONESIA'S MILITARY HAS BEEN flexing its muscles at home and abroad. Troops patrolled Jakarta's business district with automatic weapons in the wake of the July 27 rioting, and security forces have since rounded up leading members of opposition groups. Last week, the armed forces launched its largest and most complex war games ever: some 19,000 airborne troops, 50 warships and 41 aircraft are taking part in a 17-day drill in the South China Sea. The site of the exercise is the waters around the gas-rich Natuna Islands, part of which Beijing covets.

These shows of force, however, have diverted attention from what appears to be a growing and unusually public rift within the military, whose political influence is unmatched by any other national institution. For the past 30 years, the armed forces have underpinned President Suharto's government. And Suharto in turn has molded the armed forces to meet his own ends. Now, the president is faced with reshaping a divided military at a crucial time.

The army supports the president as always. But that support is split into emerging factions. "In the old days, the armed forces commander would go to the president and say, 'This is our position,' " says a senior officer. "Today there is no such thing as a military position, there are only the opinions of certain officers."

The talk in Jakarta is that Suharto, as supreme commander, is planning a major shakeup. The rumors have prompted authorities to issue formal denials. Nevertheless, says political scientist Ariwibowo: "Everybody knows that something is happening within the army."

Suharto's first move came on Aug. 15, when he sacked the Armed Forces chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Suyono, who has been at odds with Armed Forces commander Gen. Feisal Tanjung for some time. Feisal, who ranks second only to the president, may himself be in trouble. Also in danger is the military socio-political chief, Lt.-Gen. Syarwan Hamid, who ranks just below Suyono. All three have been criticized for the heavy-handed way the army quelled the Jakarta riots.

In the background is the presidential succession. Suharto, who will almost certainly seek another term in 1998, wants a military that he can implicitly count on. When he does eventually step down, he is expected to cede power to someone selected from within its ranks. That person must be able to protect the president's family and their business interests. In the meantime, "the military is being transformed into a palace guard for a president facing an uncertain future," says Australian analyst Gerry van Klinken of the Indonesia Resources and Information Program in Melbourne.

Rival generals are scrambling to secure the high ground. The tensions center on two pivotal figures: Gen. Feisal and army commander Gen. Hartono. Each has civilian allies. Feisal is backed by Research and Technology Minister B.J. Habibie, who is also chairman of the prominent Muslim group known as ICMI. Hartono is backed by Suharto's daughter Siti Hardyanti Rukmana (Tutut), who is a leading official of the ruling Golkar group. One well-connected ex-intelligence officer told Asiaweek: "The situation is explosive."

For the moment, neither Feisal's nor Hartono's prospects look promising. If Feisal is ousted, former Jakarta commander Lt.-Gen. Wiranto is expected to take over, even though Hartono outranks him. If Feisal stays, Hartono also loses. Come November, when his appointment ends, Hartono could find himself pushed onto the sidelines.

This would be a surprising turnabout for Hartono, given that some have said Suharto was grooming him to be the next vice-president, or even president if Suharto decides to step down during his next term. Influential Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid says Tutut virtually endorsed Hartono as the next president during a recent talk to ulamas, or religious leaders, in East Java. Says Wahid: "She told them 'If you want Hartono to be president, by God's will you will have him as president.' "

Tutut's enthusiasm would seem to bode well for Hartono. But according to a well-connected civil servant, "The backing of the president's daughter doesn't necessarily mean that much. Suharto is believed to be far more wary of Hartono than of Feisal, who is just doing his job."

The way the armed forces commander has handled that job, however, has caused friction. The military's violent takeover of the Democratic Party of Indonesia's headquarters from supporters of Megawati Sukarnoputri on July 27, and its tough response to the rioting that followed, has alarmed many. "The armed forces bared their teeth in a way not seen for some time," says van Klinken. The cost, he says, is an erosion of the military's legitimacy. Even Suharto is thought to be displeased.

What the president will do to show his displeasure, however, is still anybody's guess. Until last week, most believed that Gen. Feisal and Lt.-Gen. Syarwan would be the next casualties. The once-whispered rumors of their downfall were spoken so loudly in Jakarta that top officials have for the first time issued formal denials. On Aug. 16, State Secretary Murdiono said that no changes at the top were planned.

To many, that denial only confirmed that there was something to the speculation. Syarwan later told Asiaweek that high command had "heard nothing about [a shakeup]." And then added: "This sort of thing doesn't happen overnight. There is a process involved."

But when Sudomo, the head of the Supreme Advisory Council and a Suharto confidante, also called the rumors fiction, some figured Feisal would survive after all. He might even be reincarnated as defense minister. Edi Sudrajat, who currently holds that position, would then take over Sudomo's job. And Sudomo would go into graceful retirement.

For his part, Lt.-Gen. Syarwan is fighting back. He told a gathering of officers in Surabaya Aug. 13 that rumors of a split within the military were "divide-and-conquer" tactics used by enemies of the government. "Such political deception is being carried out by irresponsible parties," he said.

So serious are the divisions at the top, however, that some in the old guard have broken rank and publicly criticized the current military leadership. Among them are senior retired military leader Abdul Haris Nasution, one of the founders of the modern armed forces, and former Home Minister Rudini. When Rudini oh-so-gently reminded the military that it owed its allegiance to the people, not the president, Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security Susilo Sudarman had to remind the retired officer of the need for unity, at least in public.

Still, despite the heightened tensions within the ranks, and the growing calls for a more open political system, the military remains the dominant power in Indonesia. "It is highly likely that the armed forces will influence the political process in Indonesia for several decades," says Ian MacFarling, lecturer at the Australian Defense Force Academy.

Civilians within Golkar admit that the generals will probably thwart their plan to push Information Minister Harmoko as vice-president. "We have to accept that the military is still too strong," says a member of the Golkar central board. And all other political institutions are still too weak.

The only one with any control over the generals remains Suharto. He alone chooses who goes and who stays. The question now is, how will Suharto shape the military, and to what ends?

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



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

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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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