Subject: Boston Globe front page: Military Regaining Clout in Indonesia

The Boston Globe July 26, 2001 -front page-


By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Globe Staff

JAKARTA - Despised and drummed out of power three years ago, after 32 years of repressive and crooked rule, the once all-powerful Indonesian military appears to be poised to make a comeback under the new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Megawati owes her ascent not only to a unanimous vote by legislators fed up with the mercurial, bumbling style of her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, but also to the tacit support of the armed forces and police, who refused to enforce the state of emergency that Wahid declared on Monday.

Ironically, Megawati's father, Sukarno, was toppled in 1966 by right-wing officers and replaced by General Suharto, whose long reign was marked by broad corruption and brutal crackdowns on opponents. Megawati was 18 when her family was driven from the presidential palace by soldiers; now 54, she will return escorted by them.

The central challenge for Megawati - and for Indonesia's nascent democracy - is how to keep the military under civilian supremacy, and how to prevent the abuses that marred the Suharto era.

As the leader of a banned political party in the 1990s, Megawati symbolized resistance to the Suharto regime. Her quiet alliance with the military power structure she had once opposed speaks volumes about realpolitik in the world's fourth-most populous country.

For the half-century since Indonesia's independence struggle against Dutch colonizers, the armed forces have been kingmakers whose backing was needed by everyone from local chiefs to the president, because of parallel civilian and military power structures.

When an angry public took to the streets in May 1998 to demand Suharto's resignation and the creation of a civilian government, the discredited generals retreated.

Since then, the armed forces have made gestures toward becoming a more professional and less politicized body. Wahid, the country's first democratically elected leader in 44 years, tried to strip the military of its influence, but in so doing, he made enemies.

Now, with Wahid's 21-month administration in ashes, and with Megawati beholden to the armed forces for her swift and peaceful ascent, the military appears poised to reclaim a more active role.

In his first interview since he was deposed, Wahid said on Associated Press Television News yesterday that Megawati was being manipulated by military hardliners who had "used the quarrel between the politicians to set up their own rule, which I think will slide little by little to the old ways."

Also yesterday, Wahid said he would end the standoff with his successor by vacating the presidential palace today to seek medical treatment in the United States.

"The doctors are afraid my stroke will come back again," Wahid said in the television interview. He said he would leave Indonesia today after holding a news conference and speaking to his supporters.

Adding to the worries about military hardliners was a zealous commitment, shared by Megawati and the military brass, to the territorial integrity of Indonesia's 13,677 islands. This may make her more likely than her predecessor to endorse force to quell separatist rebellions.

Megawati was a vehement opponent of independence for East Timor, and her party fields an armed militia headed by Eurico Guterres, a pro-Jakarta paramilitary leader who led a violent backlash against Timorese independence supporters after the 1999 referendum. Guterres is wanted by the United Nations on charges of war crimes.

Megawati has also long enjoyed the support of key officers disillusioned by the Suharto regime.

"I think she's going to take a very hard nationalist line and will be much more accommodating to generals who believe it is their central mission to keep the unity of the nation," said Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia specialist and assistant professor at Simmons College in Boston, who is doing research here.

Wahid "took a lot of power away from the military, but at great cost to himself," Abuza said. "You can't ignore the military in Indonesian politics."

The price of Wahid's attempt to rein in the military was evident this week, when security forces ignored his call for a state of emergency, allowing the National Assembly to impeach him.

"Ironically, Wahid has made the military into the darling of democracy today, because they rejected his emergency decree and supported constitutional procedure," said Salim Said, a military analyst at the University of Indonesia.

The military's supremacy in Indonesia dates to the mid-1960s when they seized power, ostensibly to save the nation from a supposed communist coup attempt.

With ruthless efficiency, soldiers killed 500,000 people whom they accused of being communist sympathizers, and suppressed dissent so completely that there was no party strong enough to unseat them in the subsequent decades.

Officers acquired lucrative business interests, and were accused of abusing human rights when they annexed East Timor and suppressed various independence movements.

Hasnan Habib, a retired Indonesian Army lieutanant general and an ambassador to the United States under Suharto, says the military should be given credit for reforming itself in the last three years under pressure from society.

It is no longer involved in day-to-day politics, the police have been split off from military control, and generals have proven their commitment to democratization by restraining themselves during the chaotic Wahid administration, he said.

Habib insists that there is no danger that the military will try to control Megawati from behind the scenes, but neither, he says, will they be controlled by her. "The military is not here to be obedient to the president as a person. We are here to uphold national unity and the constitution," he said.

While it is true that Wahid managed to remove officers from everyday political decisions and to appoint the first civilian defense minister, he did not divorce them from their business interests, and he did not pursue trials against human rights violators.

The military has maintained its influential faction in the national assembly and has lobbied successfully for a constitutional amendment that prevents retroactive human rights trials.

The much-touted conviction in April last year of 24 officers for abuses in the province of Aceh, for example, has not yet yielded sentences, leading some to believe it was "just a gimmick, a show of justice to appease the Achenese," said Kusnanto Anggoro, a lecturer at the military college in Bandung and an analyst at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Wahid's attempts to rein in the military ultimately backfired, Anggoro said, because he was perceived as having overstepped his bounds by intervening in the promotions of officers and negotiating unilaterally with armed separatists.

"They were disappointed at the way Wahid treated them," he said, and Wahid paid the price by losing their loyalty - a lesson that was not lost on Megawati and her advisers, who have worked hard to court military support.

One sign of the armed forces' sway was the respectable third-place finish by a former general in the National Assembly vote for the vice presidency last night. Angorro said he believes the military is willing to withdraw from politics, and it is "up to civilian authorities to decide how much power to give them."

Human rights activists have voiced hope it will not be too much. Munir, chairman of Kontras, an independent commission for missing persons and victims of violence, who like many Indonesians uses just one name, voiced worries that the military may think that Megawati's support for national unity gives them a green light to use violence against separatists, and "we will go back to the human rights violations of the Suharto era."

The armed forces, critics say, do not have the will to make changes from inside, and it will take tough domestic and foreign monitoring to do so, not the fresh military aid weighed by the Bush administration and some European nations.

Munir is also hopeful that Megawati will remember who her first supporters were, before she gives up too much to her newest backers.

"Megawati is now dependent on two elements: the military and the public. But if she depends too much on the military," he said, "she won't be popular with the people anymore."

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