Suharto picks army chief to replace Harmoko

Indonesia reports rare Cabinet reshuffle, changes in the military

IN A rare Cabinet reshuffle, President Suharto yesterday replaced Information Minister Harmoko with retiring army chief General Raden Hartono.

State Secretary Moerdiono, announcing the decision, said Mr Suharto had “taken the decision to honourably discharge Harmoko from his position as Information Minister”.

He said Mr Harmoko, one of Indonesia’s longest-serving ministers with nearly 15 years in his current post, would be appointed next Wednesday in the newly created post of State Minister for Special Affairs.

“He will be given special assignments by the President,” said Mr Moerdiono without giving more details.

Gen Hartono, who turns 56 this month, has reached his mandatory retirement age.

“The President expressed his thanks to Gen Hartono for his services as army chief,” Mr Moerdiono said.

It was not immediately clear if the move represented a promotion or demotion for Mr Harmoko, but political observers said that the information portfolio was regarded as an influential one in Indonesia.

“It is a blow for him. He expected to stay on much longer,” said one analyst, noting that his new position was not properly defined, and had “no clear function or status”.

But others noted that his new post could just be “temporary”, pending another appointment.

There has been speculation that he is likely to be named as Parliament Speaker in October this year.

Said Professor Ryaas Rashid, the rector of Indonesia’s Civil Service Institute: “He is not exactly out of the political circuit yet. The main reason he has been moved aside now is to make way for Hartono.”

Gen Hartono’s political fortunes have been a major source of speculation in the past few months.

Born in Pamekasan, on the Muslim-dominated island of Madura, east Java, he rose quickly through the military ranks after he graduated from the armed forces academy in 1962.

The President has already extended his active military service once.

Observers said his new appointment was more likely aimed at grooming him for the post of Interior Minister or even the vice-presidency next year.

Said a local analyst: “It could be a stepping-stone for the No 2 post. The exposure as Information Minister could prepare him for the position next year.”

Mr Moerdiono, meanwhile, brushed aside suggestions that the changes came anything close to a ministerial reshuffle, saying: “A reshuffle involves a lot of ministers. But in this case, only one minister was affected.”

Cabinet reshuffles in the middle of a presidential term are rare in Indonesia.

Since 1968, Mr Suharto has only replaced two ministers before their terms ended: Gen (Ret) Benny Murdani was replaced as Defence Minister in 1993, while Mr Billy Satrio Yudono was discharged as Trade Minister in 1995 when his department was merged with the Industry Ministry.

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