Gus Dur blinks in clash with generals
At the swearing-in ceremony of the army and navy chiefs in the state Palace yesterday, the President alludes to his distrust of the TNI.
President Abdurrahman Wahid blinked first in the standoff with hawkish generals after being forced into a compromise over the choice for the coveted post of army chief.
Whatever hopes there were of civilian supremacy over the military in post-Suharto Indonesia took a step back. The Muslim cleric lost another round in his long-running battle with an army that appears to be fighting back with support from the President’s political rivals.
The generals got their way not just by getting him to approve Lt-General Endriartono as replacement for General Tyasno Sudarto as army chief.
More significantly, they forced him to sideline the reformist general Agus Wirahadikusumah and his allies to stop them fromholding any significant appointments in the army.
Palace insiders said that Mr Abdurrahman was “furious that he was not allowed to get his own way”.
While he did not make any public statements to that effect, his address at the swearing-in ceremony of the army and navy chiefs in the state Palace yesterday alluded to an underlying distrust of the armed forces (TNI) and their role in Indonesia. He said: “We need a strong power to defend our large country. But that does not mean that we want to return to being a military state.”
The President has tried hard since coming to power to rein in the generals by imposing civilian supremacy over the embattled military institution.
Periodic shake-ups in the TNI over the last year had allowed him to consolidate his grip on the military by putting in place generals whom he felt could push forward the reform process.
But political observers believe that he might have lost this round in his long-running battle with the TNI and rival civilian politicians.
His ties with the army have alternated between confrontation and rapprochement, depending on the political dynamics at play and the intervention of other civilian politicians.
The first phase of the relationship, in the early months of his presidency, was one of confrontation.
He asserted dominance over former security chief Wiranto and then antagonised the army’s top brass by appointing the controversial Lt-Gen Agus as chief of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad).
Observers said he also made the TNI uncomfortable with his policies on Aceh and Maluku and his stand on human rights. The generals found themselves being forced increasingly into a corner with the constant threat of being prosecuted over matters such as the East Timor saga.
The second phase saw both sides groping towards some kind of accommodation. The dismissal of Lt-Gen Agus and a much more hands-off approach to TNI appointments suggested the President was stepping back from confrontation. The decision to allow the TNI to hold on to its 38 seats in Parliament suggested some sort of crab-like rapprochement was taking place.
The strategic context of this arrangement was, of course, the threat of impeachment hovering over Mr Abdurrahman during the national assembly session in August.
With that threat receding and against a background of army-instigated violence in the country, relations once again entered a contested phase.
The President sacked two of his top generals in recent weeks and made clear that there would be another shake-up of the TNI that included replacing military chief Widodo A. S. and General Tyasno.
He might have miscalculated by assuming that he could push through Lt-Gen Agus as army chief.
The Harvard-trained general had burnt whatever currency he had in the army with his reformist zeal and by exposing widespread corruption in Kostrad.
In a show of force, more than 45 army generals gathered in Bandung recently to sign a document that would force Lt-Gen Agus and his supporters to face an Honour Council at which they were likely to be discharged from the army for violating “the military code of ethics”.
Caught on the back foot, the President decided to give Lt-Gen Agus the deputy army commander’s post. Lt-General Endriartono rejected the proposition outright.
Against a backdrop of coup rumours and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s support for the generals, Mr Abdurrahman caved in and struck Lt-Gen Agus’ name off the list.
He could also not go ahead with his plan to replace Admiral Widodo as TNI commander with air force chief Hanafie Asnan.
The generals, with the backing of Ms Megawati again, contended that Admiral Widodo should stay on for a while, despite reaching his mandatory retirement age of 55.
He also faced pressure from national assembly chairman Amien Rais and parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung. Both of them maintained that Parliament should have the last say in the appointment of the next TNI chief.
Having already offended legislators by abruptly sacking the police chief last month, it was unlikely that the President was going to risk even more resentment by going ahead with his appointment of Air Chief Marshal Hanafie.
The leading Tempo news weekly suggested that Mr Abdurrahman might have calculated that it was too dangerous to drift further away from legislators with policies that could undermine his political standing and perhaps invite a special MPR session which some, such as Dr Amien, had threatened.
Obviously, who gets the top military position and the deputy army chief’s post in the coming months will indicate more clearly the balance of power between the President and his generals.
It is unclear how the face-off will end.
Much also depends on how other changes in the Indonesian military will tilt the balance.
The civilians want a TNI that they can control rather than to allow the military to point a dagger at the heart of the reform process.
It seems fashionable to be a reformer in Indonesia these days.
The generals, too, want to wear the badge of reform – but not when it eats into their core political and economic interests. This only suggests more battles with the Palace in the months ahead.