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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

The Unlikely 'Military Man'

A government critic stands up for stability

By Tim Healy and Keith Loveard / Jakarta


IT IS ALMOST AS if Mahathir Mohamad announced that the only person he would trust to handle his personal finances is George Soros. Juwono Sudarsono, the outspoken Indonesian academic who is well-known for fearlessly criticizing the establishment, now says a military man will be needed when President Suharto eventually steps down. Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the military-backed National Defense Institute, where he has served as deputy governor for two years, Juwono said Indonesia's next leader should have "the three D's. One is a sense of direction. Two is decisiveness. And three is drive. These are the elements. They result in someone who has an army background."

Juwono may simply have been doing what he does best: speaking out where others fear to take a stand. Indonesia is a far-flung, often fractious nation with the potential for unrest as immediate as the nearest ethnic success story or imagined religious slight. Such an inherently centrifugal society, he says, requires the kind of strong center that someone from a military background can develop.

While it is likely that many Indonesians feel as Juwono does, his comments nevertheless stirred controversy. Technology Minister B.J. Habibie, probably the front-running civilian candidate for the top job when it opens, suggested civilians were more deserving than military figures -- if only because there were so many more of them. Planning Minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita, who has an air force background and has been discussed as a possible candidate, dismissed Juwono's comments. But Juwono said he wasn't talking about Ginandjar, anyway.

Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid says he believes Juwono is testing the waters for a possible plunge into presidential politics by the military in the future. Recently retired army chief Hartono, now the information minister, could be a prime beneficiary of such an effort. But Hartono isn't talking, and Juwono said his statements should not imply support for the man. At one point, even the military distanced itself from Juwono's statements. "The military-civilian dichotomy is an outdated issue," said military spokesman Wahab Mokodongan. Maybe not. Gen. Feisal Tanjung, chief of the armed forces, said Sept. 16 a new generation of leaders should wait five years --for the nation to advance further economically. "Transitional risks can adversely affect the continuation of development," he said.

Juwono says the prickly reaction from some probably reflects the widespread feeling that Indonesia is ready for civilian rule after a history of military dominance that has only recently diminished. "I think I touched a raw nerve, particularly among civilian intellectuals who feel and think they can become leaders," he says.

Ironically, Juwono could count himself among the civilians who, though not in line for the presidency, has been mentioned as a candidate for political service. In Juwono's case, the job, once Ali Alatas steps down, is foreign minister. However, the outspokenness for which he has become known argues against his taking a portfolio that requires diplomacy.

Juwono, a tall 55-year-old with a shock of hair that makes him an easily-recognizable presence in Jakarta, has a quiet voice and chooses his words with care, often using the jargon of a political scientist, which he is. But don't mistake soft-spokenness for a reluctance to say something controversial -- Juwono can not be accused of that. In the most recent case, he hit upon the succession issue, one of intense interest to Indonesians throughout the nation's more than 6,000 inhabited islands and nearly 2 million square kilometers.

Certainly, the military has accepted a lower profile within the Indonesian government in the last decade. The next parliament will find the military's guaranteed presence cut from 100 to 75 seats out of 500. In 1992, the military may have overreached by mooting a vice-presidential candidate -- a position that Suharto wanted to decide himself. After that, Suharto sought to elevate the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) as a vehicle to raise civilian influence while diminishing the military's. But the ICMI proved to have its own agenda -- sometimes at odds with the president's -- and Suharto has more recently favored military cronies for key positions. Juwono seems to have found himself in the thick of this ebb and flow. The nice thing about Juwono: in spite of controversy swirling around him, you know where he stands.


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