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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

Up, Down and Across

New posts spark a round of spot-the-rising-star


BIRTHDAYS ARE IMPORTANT MILESTONES for most people. Indonesia's military leaders are no different. For them, the 55th birthday is especially significant, as that is normally when they retire from active service. They can, though, have their tenures extended by the supreme commander, President Suharto. Gen. Raden Hartono had put off his retirement by a year, and as his 56th birthday on June 10 approached, the biggest guessing game in town was what Suharto would do with the tough army chief.

As usual, Suharto did the unusual. He announced that Hartono would replace Harmoko as information minister. As Golkar chairman, Harmoko engineered the ruling group's overwhelming victory in last month's parliamentary election. His reward -- sort of -- is the newly created position of "state minister for special tasks." Meanwhile, Lt.-Gen. Wiranto, commander of the strategic reserve, will succeed Hartono as the army's top man. The shuffle went against a long-standing tradition -- cabinets are never changed mid-term -- and predictably sparked another bout of spot-the-rising-star.

Will that be Harmoko? Unlikely. His fresh responsibilities include preparing new MPs for their duties -- hardly essential training for higher office. As it is, the post lasts only till Oct. 1, when Harmoko will himself become an appointed MP and probably get the job of speaker of both the House of Representatives and of the People's Consultative Assembly, the highest policymaking body. Prestigious and influential, but not top drawer. Also, it means he cannot be the next vice president because, in Indonesia, MPs are not allowed in the cabinet.

Exit Harmoko, enter Hartono. Indonesia's next v.p. has a strong chance of succeeding Suharto when he either retires or grows too old for office. Hartono may be the man, now being temporarily parked in a position where he can learn the bureaucratic game. Though a number of civilians have been mooted as possible vice presidents, the military is naturally keen on maintaining its hold on power. (Suharto himself is a retired general, and many top officers hold important political posts.) With his army background, Hartono clearly has an edge. Another plus is that he has a solid relationship with Suharto's politically adept daughter, Siti Hardyanti Rukmana, commonly called Tutut.

Noticeably absent in the latest round of musical chairs is Research and Technology Minister B.J. Habibie, a diehard Suharto supporter. The president has been upset by the increasingly independent streak displayed by Habibie's supposedly pro-government Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association, and Jakarta pundits believe the cabinet changes reflect the fall in his chances. Another name mentioned for the vice presidency is Tutut herself. During the recent election campaigning, she crisscrossed the country for Golkar -- and raised her own profile in the process.

Typically, neither Suharto nor his close aides have made any revealing comments on what the latest moves mean for the future leadership of the country. For the president, it was almost as if the appointments had never happened. He spent the following day celebrating his own -- 76th -- birthday quietly at his central Jakarta residence, surrounded by family and close friends. Yet by tossing in some new ingredients, Suharto has spiced up the succession pot -- and kept those with their own ambitions guessing what, if anything, he has in store for them. -- By Keith Loveard / Jakarta


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