Demilitarised Zone

After dominating Indonesian politics for more than 30 years, the army’s role in government has been reduced drastically. For the first time in Indonesian history, the defence and armed forces (TNI) portfolios are out of the army’s hands. The TNI’s top prize went to a naval officer and the defence minister’s post to a civilian intellectual.


ONE key feature of the newly-formed Cabinet is the army’s reduced role in government. After dominating Indonesian politics and seven Cabinets for more than 30 years, it appears to have lost its way.

For the first time in Indonesian history, the defence and armed forces (TNI) portfolios are out of the army’s hands. The TNI’s top prize went to Admiral Widodo, a naval officer, and the defence minister’s post to civilian intellectual Juwono Sudarsono.

There were a few consolation prizes, though, for the most powerful institution in Indonesia.

Three active and two retired generals were given Cabinet positions.

But with the exception of General Wiranto’s potentially powerful post as Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, and retired general Surjadi Sudirdja’s as Interior Minister, the others assumed jobs that were less significant than what they could have got.

The army’s rising star and leading light of reform, Lt-General Bambang Yudhoyono, ended up as the Mines and Energy Minister, and the head of the National Defence Institute, Lt-General Agum Gumelar, was “kicked upstairs” to take over the Transport Ministry.

Senior TNI sources said both generals accepted their offers reluctantly, especially Lt-Gen Agum.

Two factors were at play here. Military factionalism and rivalry saw Gen Wiranto sideline his two principal rivals in the army to pre-empt them from posing a significant challenge to his political ambitions in the long run.

Both Lt-Gen Bambang and Lt-Gen Agum were moved aside to make way for his allies to fill up the key positions in the army.

Lt-Gen Bambang, for example, was slated for the army chief’s post until the eleventh hour, when he was given a fait accompli: accept the Mines and Energy portfolio or get nothing.

He had little choice.

Ironically, internal military politics to some extent dictated the number of generals who made their way into the Cabinet. Gen Wiranto was playing the “dalang” (puppet master) behind the scenes. But ultimately, it was the shrewd and wily President Abdurrahman Wahid who called the shots.

Mr Abdurrahman neither likes nor despises the military. As leader of the 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama, he has had brushes with individual officers like former president Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo Subianto.

He has also worked closely with generals like Gen Wiranto, knowing that they are a central feature in Indonesia. But he has also indicated several times this year that the army will have to be eased out gradually by 2004.

Indeed, he worked the ground carefully before and during the Cabinet announcement yesterday, suggesting that Indonesia needed a strong navy, given the need to protect the sprawling archipelago’s sea lanes, to cushion the army’s disappointment at relinquishing the TNI chief’s post to a naval officer.

The President could be using the opportunity now to put in motion a realignment of politics of the New Order era. If he has excluded the generals from the corridors of power, he has included many others in a Cabinet designed for political compromise.

A number of facts bear this out.

Almost all the major parties that scored significant votes in the June general election were included in a broad-based coalition that cut across the secular-nationalist and Islamic divide.

Politicians from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (Struggle), or PDI-P, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), Golkar and even the Muslim modernist Crescent Star Party (PBB) were given positions to ensure that they had a vested interest in defending the new administration.

The goodies were spread evenly. If the PDI-P got the coveted economic portfolios, he ensured that PKB, Golkar and the others secured significant appointments in the Cabinet.

Mr Abdurrahman would have owed them favours for their support during the presidential election.

But insiders said that, with the exception of taking on the army directly through Gen Wiranto’s tacit backing perhaps, he wanted to have some political breathing space so as not to give his rivals any reason to challenge the government and heat up the political atmospherics once more.

That could also be why the President could have chosen to ride over popular demands not to include old faces in the Cabinet.

There were at least three ministers with links to the Suharto administration, including Gen Wiranto, Prof Juwono and Mr Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

Appointments were not determined solely by party or ideological lines. Ethnic and professional expertise also played a key role. For the first time since the 60s, two ethnic Chinese were included in the government.

The PDI-P’s Kwik Kian Gie took over the economic, finance and industry portfolio while his party colleague Laksamana Sukardi became Investment Minister.

His advisers said his main aim was to reassure the ethnic Chinese that they had a role to play in Indonesian politics and economics.

The President’s goal was to ensure that the thousands who left the country return – with the money they took with them, of course.

Ethnic considerations might have been a factor.

But it was professional expertise from a reasonable mix of experienced and young starters that shaped the Cabinet contours, its structure reflecting new government policies.

For every new portfolio created, there was a need for an adept professional to run the show.

It was no surprise then that a technocrat like Mr Bambang Sudibyo was Finance Minister or senior civil servant Ryaas Rashid was heading the newly created Regional Autonomy portfolio or that human-rights exponent Marzuki Darusman was Attorney General or that businessmen Jusuf Kalla was Trade Minister.

New faces were aimed at bringing new solutions to old problems.

The appointment of the “very urbane” Alwi Shihab, a former professor of Islamic studies at Harvard University, as Foreign Minister, for example, could bring a fresh approach to how Jakarta managed its ties with the West and Asia.

He does not carry the baggage of East Timor that became former Foreign Minister Ali Alatas’ foreign-policy albatross. It still remained inexplicable though as to why Lt-Gen Bambang and Lt-Gen Agum were in ministries that would not test their skills to the fullest. But like all the other appointments in the Cabinet, politics and pragmatism were acutely at play, varying only in degree.

Military isn’t crazy: Gus Dur

‘Don’t think the military is crazy. It knows the whole society is changing … that the military has to change its attitude towards society. Don’t think like the international press, judging the military in the wrong way. We have a strong military and we need it and also it knows how to protect (society) … Some of our generals are good, some are bad, like in any other society.’

– President Abdurrahman Wahid

Posted in Indonesia