Army chief for top TNI post

MEGA’S CHOICE

Gen Endriartono Sutarto, who has proven his loyalty to Megawati, is set to be the next military commander
by month’s end.

Army chief Endriartono Sutarto looks set to become Indonesia’s next military commander by the end of this month after President Megawati Sukarnoputri forwarded his name to Parliament yesterday.

Observers said her choice of General Endriartono as armed forces (TNI) chief signals her growing links with the army, which under her presidency has emerged as a key political ally in the face of challenges to her leadership from the Muslim camp.

The four-star general once served as head of the influential presidential security guards under former presidents Suharto and Habibie.

There seems little chance that he will not get the coveted post, given that Parliament is likely to back him.

Mr Amris Hasan, a senior official from Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P), said: ‘We think that he is the best man for the job.

‘He has the backing of the palace and his peers in the military. Indonesia needs someone like him to head the military.’

Mr Amris sits on the parliamentary commission that will deliberate on Gen Endriartono’s candidacy for the post.

He said that even if legislators – who will be meeting Gen Endriartono early next week – rejected the President’s nomination, all they can do is to send her a formal note stating their objections.

There is nothing in the books that could force Ms Megawati to bow to parliamentary pressure on this issue, he added. Indeed, a key adviser told The Straits Times that the 54-year-old President had deliberately proposed just one name to forestall legislators from being split on a choice.

‘It must be a yes or a no to just one choice,’ said the source.

‘She does not want Parliament to be divided on this matter or for legislators to challenge her prerogative to choose the TNI commander.’

Military sources said that the other potential candidate for the job was former army chief Tyasno Sudarto.

Until the eleventh hour, he had been trying to lobby Vice-President Hamzah Haz.

But Mr Hamzah, whose ties with the President are deteriorating fast over recent political differences, failed to convince the palace of Gen Tyasno’s credentials.

PDI-P member Tjahyo Kumolo, who is close to Ms Megawati’s husband Taufik Kiemas, said 55-year-old Gen Endriartono was the President’s only choice.

For a start, he was the most senior ranking officer in all the three armed forces services, including the navy and air force. More importantly perhaps, he had already proven his loyalty to Ms Megawati by opposing moves by former president.

Abdurrahman Wahid to impose a state of emergency last July and by backing her for the presidency.

Support from the army is even more crucial for her now, given the sectarian and religious violence breaking out in different parts of the sprawling archipelago and the challenge to her rule from radical Muslim groups.

Well-placed sources said that in a meeting with the President recently, Central Java-born Endriartono pledged his support for her leadership until the 2004 general election.

Support from the army will strengthen further if Ms Megawati is also able to push through her nomination of Lt-Gen Ryamizard Ryacudu, head of Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), as army chief.

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