Subject: AFR: Wiranto Faces A Showdown With Wahid

Australian Financial Review January 6, 2000

Wiranto faces a showdown with Wahid

By Tim Dodd, Jakarta

How long can the general stay on top? From the Soeharto era, which ended in May 1998, through to the beginning of the Wahid presidency, General Wiranto is the only one of Indonesia's political players to continuously maintain a senior role in the Indonesian Government.

Since being appointed armed forces chief by the former President Soeharto in early 1998, Wiranto, the Teflon general, has proved untouchable.

He survived Soeharto's resignation and a brutal bid to topple him by Soeharto's son-in-law, former General Prabowo Subianto. A failure to keep order in strife-torn Maluku province, where more than 800 people have died in religious violence in the past year, has not dented his prospects. International and domestic opprobrium for the military's role in masterminding violence in East Timor has not yet damaged him. And being kicked upstairs by President Wahid in October, to a job which formerly held little power, has not diminished his influence.

These are only a few of the perils through which Wiranto has survived, and even prospered.

He endured tension with President B.J. Habibie after the army shot protesting students in central Jakarta in November 1998; he has been able to brush off calls for a serious investigation of army human rights abuses over the past decade in the province of Aceh; and now he, along with other generals, is under investigation by an Indonesian human rights inquiry for his role in the destruction of East Timor.

Now, as has often happened before, the Jakarta rumour mill has it that Wiranto is about to be displaced, that a showdown is coming between him and the President which will see him sidelined, or perhaps stung into orchestrating a military takeover.

So far there is no hard evidence that Wiranto will lose his job as Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs. Jakarta's always active rumour mill has proved particularly unreliable under a president who loves spreading rumour himself, and is very unpredictable to boot.

So Wiranto's meteoric career, which saw him move from a colonel with no great prospects to armed forces chief in 10 years, may not be over. But he is likely to face another testing period in the next few weeks because there is certainly rising tension between him and the President.

Wiranto's greatest potential setback came last October when President Wahid replaced him as armed forces commander and defence minister and named him Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, a role which, although nominally senior to the military chief, has usually exercised little power.

However, he remained very influential in the early days of the new government and played a key role in selecting the Cabinet and reshuffling military posts. With guile and foresight, he managed to remain the most powerful figure in the armed forces.

His replacement as commander is Admiral Widodo, who had been hand-picked by Wiranto to serve as his deputy last July. Because Widodo is from the navy, he will never establish his own power base in the dominant army. The admiral's power is further limited because he does not hold concurrently the post of Defence Minister, which Wiranto held as armed forces commander.

The new Defence Minister is a civilian, Mr Juwono Sudarsono, who is close to the military but no threat to it. And in the subsequent armed forces reshuffle in November, Wiranto was able to promote his own supporters and ensure that reformers and potential rivals were sidelined.

Major-General Agus Wirahadikusumah, who launched his book on military reform last year, was shifted out of the national power structure to head a regional command in Sulawesi. Two other reformers, Lieutenant-General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Lieutenant-General Agum Gumelar, were appointed to the Cabinet, which probably ends their active military careers.

The new army chief-of-staff is a Wiranto ally, Lieutenant-General Tyasno Sudarto.

But more recently there have been clear signs of tension between Wiranto and the President. Firstly, when General Wiranto was summoned to appear before the Indonesian human rights inquiry on East Timor last month, the President said he would not support him or other officers if they were implicated.

Even more public tension has been evident between the President and the armed forces senior spokesman, Wiranto-appointee Major-General Sudrajat.

The armed forces ignored a call from President Wahid several weeks ago for Sudrajat, who had been vocal in backing military action to bring rebels in Aceh to heel, to be sacked.

Last week General Sudrajat said that Article 10 of the Constitution, which gives the president the "highest power over the army, the navy and the air force" does not give the president the right to interfere in the armed forces' internal affairs.

In an extraordinary claim, he said the TNI (armed forces) would give its loyalty to the people and the State, but not automatically to the president.

The Jakarta Post editorialised that the spokesman's remarks left a very big omission. "To whom is TNI accountable? ... If he [the president] is not the supreme commander, then we have virtually removed any mechanism that allows the public to indirectly control the military and it becomes accountable to no-one but itself," it said.

General Wiranto's fate is likely to be clear next week when the President makes it clear whether his hints of a Cabinet reshuffle will be fulfilled.

Notwithstanding the Jakarta gossip circuit, it is very unlikely Wiranto would attempt a coup. The armed forces, and the general particularly, put great store in appearing to follow the Constitution.

But should Indonesia's political situation worsen, he is well positioned to engineer a constitutional takeover, just like his mentor, Soeharto, did in 1966.

Back to January Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from