Indonesian military wants Gus Dur to step down

The scene spoke for itself.

In February, Indonesian generals lined up behind legislators to charge President Abdurrahman Wahid with involvement in two damning financial scandals.

The move was of deep political significance. Never in the last 30 years had the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) defied its leader so openly in Parliament – and that was just days after it refused to obey its Supreme Commander’s order to impose a state of emergency.

Despite Mr Abdurrahman’s determination to hold on to power, the conviction among top military brass that he must step down is now even stronger.

There appears to be a TNI consensus that he is becoming a political liability and must make way for his deputy Megawati Sukarnoputri this year.

That consensus grew from a rocky 18-month relationship with the President.

Although the TNI never supported Mr Abdurrahman openly in the 1999 election, the military elite recognised him as the constitutional successor.

But it was willing to subjugate its interests only up to a point.

The generals still believed that as the “soul of the nation” that fought for independence against the Dutch colonists, the TNI had an inherent right to be part of the decision-making process.

Being excluded from this process and the periodic civilian interference in security policies contributed to the worsening ties between the military and the President.

The level of resentment is greatest in the army, which has long been first among equals, where several officers feel he is favouring the navy and air force by offering them key posts in the military headquarters.

Problems came to a head when he began weeding out opponents in the army – former military chief General Wiranto and his supporters – to put in place palace loyalists.

And he continues to meddle in the make-up of the top hierarchy.

Military sources disclosed that he was now plotting to get rid of his army chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, who has stubbornly refused to do the President’s bidding on several occasions.

The military’s estrangement from the President has been aired regularly in the press and in ad-hoc meetings.

It gained momentum early this month when key military commanders met formally to talk about the political fate of Mr Abdurrahman.

Chaired by TNI chief Admiral A.S. Widodo and attended by army, navy and air force chiefs-of-staff, military insiders said the generals wanted a change in the country’s leadership.

Besides residual resentment of his handling of the TNI, there were three other reasons why they believed Mr Abdurrahman had to go. First, his legitimacy to rule had been damaged badly by the Buloggate and Bruneigate scandals.

The military was taking its cue from Parliament. Legislators had responded negatively to his formal response to their first censure memorandum. And backing for Ms Megawati was growing stronger.

Secondly, senior officers were critical of his treatment of rivals, especially members of the former ruling Golkar party who have become political targets of the palace.

They said army intelligence had proof that he ordered his supporters to attack Golkar branches in East Java last month and would do so again in other parts of Indonesia.

The TNI was growing edgy that the President was prepared to use force to make his opponents back off. This could only mean periodic bouts of instability as he fought desperately to stay in power.

Lastly, he had done little to turn around the battered economy. The rupiah continued to slide, exports were down and foreign investments were not coming in.

A three-star general noted: “The problems facing Indonesia are Herculean in proportion. We need a Hercules to solve them. Gus Dur is definitely not one. He’s a blind man leading us into the dark ages.”

Military analysts said about 70 per cent of high-ranking officers think he is not up to the task and should quit.

This group comprises most of those holding key strategic appointments, including the TNI chief, the three services’ heads and most regional commanders.

In contrast, the palace generals do not hold key positions and are growing smaller in number.

They include former Jakarta commander Slamet Kirbiantoro and Brigadier-General Romulus Simbolon, both of whom have been persuading Mr Abdurrahman that it is in his interest to slug it out until 2004.

The ones that want him out are primarily from the conservative and mainstream army factions. They are backing Ms Megawati.

The conservatives see a Megawati presidency as guarantee that military interests will be protected.

The process of “demilitarisation” would proceed only at a gradual pace and many of the “sins of the past”, including human-rights abuses in Aceh and other provinces, would be forgotten.

The mainstream group is led by security chief Bambang Yudhoyono and includes Gen Endriartono, Lieutenant-General Djamari Chaniago and former army commander Tyasno Sudarto. They have been working behind the scenes to prepare for her takeover.

They have been lobbying, for example, Muslim clerics of the rival Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah groups to support Ms Megawati.

Clashes between the millions of supporters from both groups could crush hopes for a peaceful transition.

In the main, the generals prefer Ms Megawati as she is perceived as a staunch conservative at heart.

Her statements on preserving national unity, opposition to federalism and criticism of Washington’s meddling in domestic affairs have struck a chord with the nationalist army.

More importantly, she is seen as the constitutional successor.

This is why several officers and her own cadres of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P) have talked her out of any power-sharing deal with Mr Abdurrahman because it would not be guaranteed under the current presidential system. An army general said: “Everything is in her favour. She has got the backing not just of PDI-P supporters. There is a broad-based support from most of the major factions in Parliament. Even the Muslim parties want her in power. We can’t ignore this growing support for her.

“If Ibu Mega becomes President, it will be in line with our Constitution. It is a short-term solution to end the political crisis.

But the real worry for us is whether Gus Dur and his supporters will accept this.”

The ideal scenario for the TNI is for the President to resign voluntarily before a second memorandum is passed by Parliament. But prospects look dim.

A senior Cabinet minister, who has been consulting Ms Megawati on the matter, explained: “Will he go for it? We don’t think so, because he has too much of an ego to just give up. He will fight all the way to survive.”

The military has drawn up contingency plans for the worst possible outcomes.

If Mr Abdurrahman were to unleash thousands of diehard supporters in Jakarta to bring the country close to civil war, the generals would push for martial law.

If the President were to reject this, fearing a creeping coup, the TNI chief could then resort to putting the military on “highest alert”.

This order would allow soldiers to shoot on sight. The military is taking steps to ensure that it would not come to this, especially given doubts among top generals whether troops would be able to react effectively.

Their poor track record in the last three years is instructive. The Jakarta military and police have stepped up joint patrols and have been carrying out sweeping operations to prevent Mr Abdurrahman’s supporters from getting into the capital. But there could be widespread problems even without them entering Jakarta.

If they rampaged in East Java, attacking rival Muhammadiyah schools and Golkar branches, there would be retaliation in other parts of Java.

Said the Cabinet minister: “The transition is not likely to be smooth. We are looking at ways to ensure that it does not get as bad as May 1998.”

Well-placed sources said the military was also concerned that the President might act on his threat to dissolve Parliament if he were pushed into a corner.

If this happened, the TNI would challenge him by rounding up the support of other political parties.

A two-star army general said: “It is unconstitutional if he does that. The military will take the lead in rejecting it and use all necessary means to get the President to resign. Some might think this is nothing but a coup. It is not.

“That is why it is important to have the civilian politicians on our side. We are not foolish enough to carry out a full-scale coup d’etat.”

For some, military intervention is the only way out of the political impasse.

Observers speculate on scenarios borrowed from the 1988 coup in Myanmar, the transfer of power from Sukarno to Suharto in 1966, the 1986 military revolt in the Philippines and the 1999 coup in Pakistan.

But as in the last three decades, and most recently in May 1998, the army remains reluctant to seize power directly. The TNI has very little backing from the middle class and students for a conventional coup.

And any such move would draw a strong international protest as well as possible economic sanctions on an Indonesia that has barely recovered from the financial crisis.

For the Indonesian military, an effective strategy these days is to do nothing and let violence fester, as the recent glaring example of Central Kalimantan makes clear.

At the same time, it is possible that army elements might seek to destabilise the situation – a “white ant” strategy – to speed up the President’s downfall, with their contingency plans as a cover perhaps.

But that would be the limit of military intervention.

When Mr Suharto fell in 1998, the armed forces declined to take over power at a time when its credibility was dipping to an all-time low. Civilians gained the upper hand in Indonesia’s fledging democracy while the military retreated.

That trend appears to be reversing. It is taking place at a time when developments in other countries belie the notion that the 20th century ended on a wave of irreversible global democratisation.

The TNI is on a slow ascendancy as politicians tear at each other’s throats. That pattern is likely to continue for the next year or two.

Is the clock beginning to turn back for Indonesia?

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