Army back in the saddle with its close ties to Mega

Its growing confidence could delay much-needed military reforms to turn it into a professional organisation.

The army is back in the driving seat in Indonesia four years after the fall of Suharto, flexing its muscles against separatist insurgencies and pulling the strings in domestic politics.

But as it aspires to return to its traditional role of ‘safeguarding national unity’, it risks putting on the back burner reform initiatives that could turn the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) into a professional outfit.

The growing confidence of the army – the most dominant group in the TNI which also includes the navy and air force – has much to do with its close relationship with President Megawati Sukarnoputri who shares the nationalist views of the generals.

In the past month, two of the most senior positions in the TNI have gone to army generals – both of whom are Megawati loyalists.

Lt-General Ryamizard Ryacudu was promoted to take over the army leadership from General Endriartono Sutarto, who in turn moved up to the position of TNI commander.

Gen Endriartono’s appointment effectively broke a consensus reached at the start of the reform era to rotate the top position between the army, navy and air force.

Under former president Abdurrahman Wahid, navy commander A. S. Widodo was placed at the TNI helm to neutralise the army’s influence. It was the turn of the air force next.

But the army leadership effectively derailed the rotation system to put in place Gen Endriartono. A three-star general disclosed that the two appointments were made with the full backing of Ms Megawati and her husband,

Taufik Kiemas, who lobbied behind the scenes to win parliamentary approval.

‘Whatever the public sentiments, the President realises that a strong army is crucial for her administration to ride the storm for the next few years,’ the general said.

‘She knows that she can count on Endriartono and Ryamizard to do the job. The risk is that she is giving the army more room to manoeuvre and call the shots in politics.’

None of the new faces seem to be highly supportive of fast or major military reforms.

Nor do they seem keen on revising the military doctrine of dwifungsi – which acknowledges the TNI’s dual function as a security cum political force.

This is evident in that the generals are already pushing to delay the army’s parliamentary departure until 2009.

‘Most of the ideas for reform come from the air force and navy but they have no clout compared to the army which has a line to the palace,’ said military analyst Kusnanto Anggoro of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

‘The army generals continue to be wary but accept civilian supremacy in so far as it protects their interests.’

Generals Ryamizard and Endriartono have been quick to take the hardline, pushing for military force against insurgencies in Aceh and Irian Jaya rather than dialogue.

Said Mr Kusnanto: ‘As long as the army continues to behave like a bully in Indonesia and a big brother to the navy and air force, we are not going to see any significant changes in the TNI for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

‘If anything, the clock seems to be turning back now.’

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