Suharto springs a surprise

In a rare reshuffle in Indonesia recently, President Suharto replaced the information minister with a retiring general. He also promoted younger military officers to key positions in the armed forces.

WHAT is management strategy – Javanese style?

Ask the guru, President Suharto, who executed another deft stroke last month that left veteran Indonesia watchers dumbfounded.

In his typical Javanese style of maintaining balance and harmony, he accommodated two influential ministers into his kraton or palace.

Long-serving Information Minister Harmoko was made State Minister for Special Affairs to make way for retiring army chief, General Hartono.

Mr Harmoko’s appointment to the newly-created, but apparently less important ministerial post, was surprising given that as Golkar chairman, he had led the ruling party to a landslide election victory last month.

At the same time, Mr Suharto put in place younger military officers – many of them who had, at one time or other, served as his adjutants or in the presidential security guard – into key positions in the Indonesian armed forces (Abri).

He has honed this management style to perfection through three decades of rule.

According to the traditional Javanese concept of power, a ruler’s success or failure rests on his ability to attract and surround himself with powerful people and strike a balance among various personalities.

The ultimate aim is a win-win situation for all – something that he achieved in his most recent initiative.

Political analysts and diplomats believe that by “anointing” loyalists to key positions, Mr Suharto keeps his lieutenants happy and secures his own political flanks in the run-up to the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) next year.

The once-in-five-years MPR elects a president and vice-president from among candidates supported by the five representative groups – three political parties, the military and regional representatives.

Noted political observer Fachry Ali, who heads a Jakarta-based think-tank: “The President is obviously creating a safe environment as he prepares for his own re-election. It is a cost-free strategy that increases his power and keeps Hartono and Harmoko in the political fold.”

Post-poll ‘wounds’

ANALYSTS believe that Mr Harmoko’s new appointment is temporary, with some speculating that it could be a “waiting phase” for him before moving on to become Parliament (DPR) and MPR Speaker later this year.

The 56-year-old has a strong chance of being elected Speaker because, as State Secretary Moerdiono pointed out: “It is common that the winner of the general election nominates its chairman as the MPR and DPR Speaker.”

The current Speaker, Mr Wahono, for example, was nominated for the post after leading Golkar to electoral victory in 1992.

If this practice were to continue, Mr Harmoko would leave the Cabinet in October when the new legislators take their seats.

Mr Harmoko himself said he would stay in the Cabinet until the end of September.

Under Indonesian state protocol, the Speaker is the third most senior position after the president and vice-president.

If Mr Harmoko is elected Speaker, he will have his hands full preparing for the upcoming MPR session which, besides electing the country’s top two leaders, will also draw up the state guidelines for the next five years.

Noted an analyst: “It will be a strategic position as Harmoko is now given the job of preparing the groundwork for the MPR session.”

Observers also point to his new ministerial appointment as a move aimed in that direction.

As State Minister of Special Affairs, he has been given the task of training parliamentarians.

Mr Harmoko quashed criticism that his main job now was to “indoctrinate” legislators.

He said: “According to the President, it is to help them improve their abilities.”

The Indonesian weekly Forum, however, said in its recent publication that one of his tasks now was to keep a tight leash on vocal opposition in parliament.

A related aim was to “heal the wounds” of the opposition United Development Party (PPP) and Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) legislators – still upset over the polls results, which they alleged were rigged.

Golkar won 325 of 425 seats in parliament. The Muslim-led PPP took 89 seats, while the PDI won 11 seats.

Commenting on Mr Harmoko’s new appointment, one Golkar cadre noted: “The goal is reconciliation and maintaining harmony among the three parties – to unite parliament after the heated election campaign.”

Managing the press

WHILE some believe that Mr Harmoko was “promoted” to manage legislators and later lead parliament and the MPR, others see his move out of the information portfolio as a “demotion”.

Observers said his handling of the press during the polls campaign had upset Mr Suharto.

The President was believed to be unhappy with the Indonesian media’s coverage of the recent election – and determined not to allow a repeat of such excesses in the run-up to the 1998 presidential election.

Indeed, it is widely rumoured that three editors from local newspapers are on their way out.

Dr J. Kristiadi of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said: “It was a punishment for Harmoko because he could not control the press, which gave a lot of coverage to riots and vote-rigging.”

Mr Suharto has had little hesitation putting a military figure in the information portfolio. In the ’70s, for example, he appointed Lieutenant-General Ali Murtopo to head this strategic post.

Some believe that Gen Hartono’s appointment could signal tough times ahead for newspapers and magazines critical of the government.

Dr Mulya Lubis, a member of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, said it could have a “psychological effect” of deterring local media coverage on sensitive political issues.

“There will be legitimate concern when a four-star general takes over the information portfolio. The question being asked now is whether he will narrow the corridors of press freedom in Indonesia,” he said.

Gen Hartono, on his part, had stressed that the law allowing the government to ban the media would remain.

An information ministry decree gives the minister the right to revoke a media organisation’s publishing licence.

The widely-criticised decree was used several times in the past to ban newspapers and magazines.

Mr Harmoko banned at least two prominent dailies and three magazines, including the country’s biggest weekly, Tempo, during his 14-year tenure.

Noted one diplomat: “Gen Hartono is a military man. It will not prick his conscience to take firm measures to keep the press in line.”

Political succession

POLITICAL observer, Dr Salim Said, said Gen Hartono’s new appointment was aimed at preparing him for higher office.

“The President has special plans for Hartono and is grooming him for better things. He is giving him a chance to work with civilians – something he could not do as a military man,” said Dr Said, who is chairman of the Jakarta Arts Council.

He added: “As Information Minister, he will be exposed to the media regularly and learn how to smile before the camera.”

Some analysts said his chances of becoming vice-president next year had increased considerably given that he now holds a cabinet rank – a rite de passage for the No. 1 or even No. 2 post.

Said a senior government official: “It could be a stepping stone for the vice-presidency.”

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.

Mr Suharto has already extended his active military service once.

Gen Hartono’s appearance in Golkar’s colours last year fuelled speculation that he was being groomed for an important civilian position after his retirement.

Besides his links to the Muslim communities in Central and East Java, his close political ties with Mr Suharto’s eldest daughter and Golkar deputy chief Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana are telling indicators that he would be a force in the run-up to next year’s presidential election.

Sources believe that Mr Harmoko’s transfer was timed to coincide with Gen Hartono’s retirement as army chief and that the President’s daughter had played a major role in “lobbying” for his appointment.

Said one diplomat: “The main aim was to extend Hartono’s political life.

“The President also created for himself an extra option so that he can appoint Hartono as Vice-President. It broadens his choice of candidates for the post and his freedom of manoeuvrability in selecting one.”

Personal loyalty

THE President has also moved younger military officers to key Abri positions to get their backing ahead of the MPR.

Most of the Abri officers who were promoted recently were formerly Mr Suharto’s adjutant or had served in his presidential security guard.

For example, the new army chief, Gen Wiranto, was his adjutant between 1989 and 1993. Deputy army chief, Lieutenant-General H.S. Subagyo, served in the presidential security unit from 1986 to 1993.

Noted a senior government source: “He is selecting people who are loyal so that the status quo can be maintained.

“Officers being promoted to the top are those who have worked for him at some point in their career. He trusts them more than others. Personal loyalty is the catchphrase now.”

Analysts said Mr Suharto’s principal objective was to prevent a repeat of the last MPR session in 1993, which saw Abri challenging him openly through constitutional means.

To be sure, he had always been re-elected by unanimous endorsements in his first four terms.

For the fifth term in 1988, however, there was deep disgruntlement within Abri over his selection of Mr Sudharmono as vice-president.

In the 1993 MPR session, the military pre-empted Mr Suharto by nominating General Tri Sutrisno as its choice for vice-president, leaving him little choice but to accept its nomination.

Said Mr Fachry Ali: “That is why Mr Suharto took corrective measures. He wants solid backing from the military.”

In addition to promoting younger officers, sources said he would retain the services of Abri chief Feisal Tanjung, and military chief for socio-political affairs Syarwan Hamid – two men largely instrumental in promoting the President’s interests – up until March next year.

Political observers believe that all these point to an Abri leadership that would be predisposed to supporting Mr Suharto in the coming MPR session and thereafter.

Indeed, the military has made it clear that it will not tolerate any disruptions to the MPR process.

Said a diplomatic source: “Mr Suharto has come out being the master strategist once again and has caught everyone on the back foot.

“The guessing game continues.”


KRATON politics?

While some believe that long-serving Information Minister, Mr Harmoko (above), was “promoted” to State Minister for Special Affairs to manage legislators and later lead parliament and the MPR, others see his move out of the information portfolio as a “demotion”.

Observers said his handling of the press during the polls campaign had upset President Suharto. The press had given a lot of coverage to riots and vote-rigging.

Posted in Indonesia