Abri chief the kingmaker?


General Wiranto looks set to play a crucial role as Indonesia moves ahead following Mr Suharto’s resignation.


Armed forces chief and Defence Minister General Wiranto will have a crucial role, as kingmaker or more, in the days ahead as Indonesia enters unchartered waters.

He has managed to raise his political standing by maintaining a fine balance between meeting the aspirations of student protesters and his loyalty to former President Suharto.

As Mr Suharto fell from grace, Gen Wiranto, 50, pledged that he would protect the family of the former President against any retribution.

This dented his credibility in the eyes of the student protesters already upset with him for rejecting calls by House Speaker Harmoko for the President to resign.

But according to one of his aides, Gen Wiranto – who represents a younger generation of officers pushing for greater military professionalism – was only pushing for a peaceful and lawful resolution to the political crisis.

The aide said: “Many students and intellectuals were upset that he supported Mr Suharto. Moderation was uppermost in his mind in these difficult times when political emotions were very high.

“History will show that he made the right choice because that is the only way to avoid blood on the streets.

“The students will come around to seeing that in due time.”

Moderation has been a central characteristic of the 50-year-old Yogyakarta-born Muslim whose rise up the ranks has been meteoric after serving as Mr Suharto’s adjutant.

But while the general’s credibility with student activists and intellectuals have taken a temporary dive, his standing among political players and the military is on the rise.

Sources said he met Mr Suharto at least 10 times before the President decided to resign.

As a condition for stepping down, said the sources, the general promised the 76-year-old leader that he would protect his family.

Said a two-star army general: “He played the role of kingmaker in this instance and that was a further boost to his political credentials.

“His role could go beyond being kingmaker to being king if Habibie fails as President.”

Vice-President B.J. Habibie succeeded Mr Suharto, who resigned yesterday morning.

As commander of the 475,000-strong Abri, Gen Wiranto will inevitably have a big say in maintaining national unity at a time when the country is entering an uncertain phase after 32 years of one-man rule.

Military sources believe that if the civilian leadership fails to resolve the country’s problems, Abri, under Gen Wiranto, could intervene to restore order as was the case three decades ago.

“That is the worst-case scenario for him to assume the presidency,” said the Abri source.

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