Feb 26, 2024 Last Updated 12:52 AM, Feb 22, 2024

More educated, more ruthless


Indonesians found it hard to believe the headline in the afternoon papers: HARTONO REPLACES HARMOKO. Harmoko had sat in the cabinet as Information Minister for nearly fifteen years. As head of Golkar he had campaigned relentlessly and had just presided over the government's largest election victory ever. The precipitous removal of Indonesia's second most prominent civilian politician came amidst growing signs that Suharto was also losing patience with Habibie, the country's best known civilian politician and presidential aspirant. Suharto's new favourite is General Hartono, who until his 56th birthday in June this year was Indonesia's Army Chief. The strapping Madurese Muslim, popularly believed to be romantically involved with Suharto's daughter Tutut, was appointed to fill Harmoko's shoes as Information Minister. He is now also breathing down Habibie's neck at ICMI, the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association Habibie has headed since 1990. Whatever future Suharto, and his increasingly influential daughter, may have in mind for Hartono, his surprise elevation to the cabinet and his widely publicised joining of ICMI have led to speculation that Suharto has mended his bridges with Abri and may once again be committed to ensuring that his successor comes from the military. This is certainly what the military wants to believe. Yuwono Sudarsono, a political scientist second in charge at the Defence Department's National Defence Institute (Lemhanas), claimed in September there were no civilians with the leadership qualities required to run the country. Who, then, are the current generation of military leaders and how did they get there?

Privilege of proximity

The most obvious pattern in the large scale rotations between July and October is that Suharto has again given trusted former adjutants and bodyguards with the important jobs. The new Army Chief is Gen Wiranto, who served as Suharto's adjutant from 1989 to 1993. His new deputy, Lt-Gen Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo, served in the presidential security squad in the mid 1970s, and from 1988 to 1993 commanded Suharto's personal guard. Wary of a coup, Suharto has also attempted to ensure that the key troop commands (the ones with the guns) are in safe hands. His latest choice to head Kostrad, the 27,000 strong Army Strategic Command which Suharto used to seize control of Jakarta in 1965, is Lt-Gen Sugiono. The US-trained Sugiono was presidential adjutant from 1991 to 1995 and commanded Suharto's personal guard between 1995 and 1997. Indonesia's most highly trained killers, the Kopassus 'red berets', remain under the command of Suharto's 46 year old son-in-law Maj-Gen Prabowo Subianto. Married to the president's daughter Titiek since 1983, Prabowo has a strong stake in the survival of the Suharto dynasty. Day to day control of the Jakarta streets, meanwhile, has been entrusted to the man who headed Suharto's personal guard between 1993 and 1995, Maj-Gen Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin.

'Red and White' comeback?

The army's new number one, Gen Wiranto, spent most of his career as a Kostrad officer. He took part in many anti-insurgency operations, including at least one stint in East Timor in 1981. Wiranto's term as a presidential adjutant put him on the fast track. After leaving the president's service in 1993 he climbed quickly from Chief of Staff of the Jakarta military region to Jakarta Military Commander and then to Kostrad Commander. These positions - all in the capital - saw Wiranto extend his network to the Jakarta underworld. In 1995 he organised a rally of 15,000 'Cadre Upholders of Discipline', consisting largely of members of youth and strongarm organisations. Issuing them with ID cards, he unleashed them on Jakarta to create 'order' in public places. His recent instruction to duplicate his example in towns and villages throughout the archipelago prompted fears that East Timor style state-sponsored thuggery is set to become a regular feature of Indonesian political life. Politically, Wiranto is said to be aligned with the 'red and white' (nationalist, secular) military faction, which opposes the ambitions of ICMI under Habibie. His appointment might be read as an attempt by Suharto (and by Abri Commander Gen Feisal Tanjung) to wind back the influence of the ICMI camp. Not long after Wiranto was appointed Army Chief, his protege Maj-Gen Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took up the strategic position of Abri Assistant for Social and Political Staff. The 'Sospol' staff are the military's main political managers. Bambang Yudhoyono is the star of his 1973 Military Academy class. He recently commanded a multinational United Nations Military Observer force in Bosnia. Like Wiranto, he is said to be suspicious of political Islam, and is busy building alliances with like-minded military officers as well as with civilian intellectuals ranging from Christians associated with the newspaper Suara Pembaruan to the Muslim thinker Amien Rais. Abri's Sospol also has a new chief, the sixth in as many years. Replacing the high profile Lt-Gen Syarwan Hamid in this powerful post is Maj-Gen Yunus Yusfiah, a Timor veteran known in Australia for leading the Kopassus assault on Balibo in which five Australian journalists were killed in October 1975. Although Yunus has been described as a 'fighting animal', he demonstrated a keen interest in politics while in charge of the Abri Staff College between 1995 and 1997. His controversial invitation of Megawati to speak at the college suggests that his vision of Indonesia's future, like that of Wiranto and Bambang Yudhoyono, is more 'red and white' than 'green' (Muslim). Suharto's long delay in issuing Yunus' letter of appointment may indicate that he was the military's candidate, not Suharto's. The test will come in the months ahead when the 75 military appointees to parliament, who are answerable to Yunus, reveal their candidate for vice president.

New generation

Slightly lower down the ladder are the ten regional military commanders, now dominated by officers aged between 47 and 50 who graduated from the Military Academy in the early 1970s. Most if not all of the current crop have served in East Timor. Many took part in the Operation Seroja invasion and the anti-population measures of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The hottest of the new generation of regional commanders is Maj-Gen Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, the 45 year old from Sulawesi who took up the highly strategic position of Greater Jakarta Military Commander in late August 1997. A glance at Sjafrie's background provides a lesson in how to get ahead in the Indonesian military in the 1990s. First, Sjafrie spent six years as part of Suharto's personal escort. He was his top bodyguard from 1993 until 1995, accompanying him to at least sixteen countries. Second, he has spent the best part of his career in Kopassus, whose battle hardened 'tough guys' occupy a large and increasing number of positions in the regional commands and at Abri HQ. Third, Sjafrie is highly trained, having earned himself - like a handful of other high fliers - an American MBA. He has also taken at least five specialist military courses in the US, including one on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict which, according to Sjafrie, involved training by US Special Forces flown in from Peru on 'how to create terror'. Sjafrie topped his class. A final plus for Sjafrie is that he is a mate of Prabowo, having shared a room with him while attending the Military Academy in Magelang. Most of Prabowo's known allies in the military have done well in the recent round of promotions. Probably the most important of these are Bambang Yudhoyono and Maj-Gen Zacky Anwar Makarim, head of Military Intelligence (BIA). Like Prabowo, both have extensive combat experience in East Timor and are regarded, within the army at least, as intellectuals.

Well connected

While it may be pointless to speculate, as Bob Lowry argues in this issue of Inside Indonesia, which particular officers will prevail in the post-Suharto era, a look at the rising military elite suggests some interesting trends. More professionally trained than their predecessors, they are also more educated, several holding degrees in management or business. Many are closely related to rich and influential civilian businesspeople. Apart from the obvious example of Prabowo, Zacky Anwar is the brother of Indonesia's highest paid corporate lawyer, and Maj-Gen Luhut Panjaitan, the new head of the Army Education and Training Command, is the brother in law of the wealthy economist and securities trader Syahrir. Many officers, moreover, have taken part in international missions in Cambodia, Bosnia, the Philippines and the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s, exposing them to alternative military cultures. But while these experiences may have given some a greater understanding of the economy and the outside world and reinforced their sense of belonging to the civilian elite, it does not appear to have made them any more sympathetic to democratic ideals. The men in charge of the military have, after all, spent most of their careers fighting Indonesians, whether in Kalimantan, Lampung, Timor, Aceh or Irian Jaya. They are deeply imbued with the idea that the greatest threat to the state is from disloyal elements within the country. They see it as their role, as Sjafrie made clear in an October interview with Forum magazine, to watch the people very closely and to nip any trouble in the bud. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of this attitude was the storming of the PDI headquarters on 27 July 1996 by thugs said to have been coordinated by precisely the men whose stars are now shining bright: Wiranto, Prabowo and Sjafrie, along with Jakarta's new mayor, Maj-Gen Sutiyoso, another former Timor commando with substantial underworld links.

Dr David Bourchier is a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University, Perth.

Inside Indonesia 53: Jan-Mar 1998

Latest Articles

Essay: Local tradition in a global religious community in modern day Java

Feb 20, 2024 - LEO BARRY

Ghosts and spirits often come up in conversation but attitudes are changing

Review: Netflix’s ‘Cigarette Girl’ promotes Big Tobacco interests in Indonesia

Feb 08, 2024 - MARINA WELKER

Netflix’s series Gadis Kretek (Cigarette Girl) romanticises an industry that kills around 290,000 Indonesians each year

Book review: I am that unicorn

Feb 06, 2024 - HELEN PAUSACKER

Essay: A movement to remember

Feb 01, 2024 - GHINA TSABITAH

This essay is the first in a new series featuring the writing of and edited by young people.

Obituary: Soni Farid Maulana (1962-2022)

Jan 23, 2024 - IAN CAMPBELL

Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.