Subject: JP: Ex-Generals to SBY: We're Still Powerful [a JP Op-Ed]

The Jakarta Post Friday, January 26, 2007


When Generals Go On Maneuvers

by Tata Mustasya, Jakarta

In recent weeks, members of the country's powerful political groups have been expressing their discontent with government policies. Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who heads the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle -- the nation's second-largest political party, urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to start getting things done rather than spending most of his energy on image building.

Meanwhile, others staged a high-profile protest to demand the President resign because the government had failed to improve public welfare and reduce poverty and unemployment.

However, the most unique -- and significant -- political development was the tough criticism of the government from some retired generals. These outspoken military men included former vice president Try Sutrisno, former Army chief Tyasno Sudarto and former commander of the armed forces Wiranto.

To show how seriously they took the criticism, the government represented by the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Widodo AS met with the generals to discuss these problems

How strong is the influence of these retired generals in domestic politics?

These veterans' comments are mainly triggered by their belief they have an opportunity to play a role in politics. This is more or less, related to the so-so government performance when handling the economy.

There are at least two likely motives behind the generals' comments.

They probably believe there is a "supply shortage" of competent leaders in Indonesia's political market; an "excess demand" for strong leadership that President Yudhoyono has failed to meet. The generals may believe they can grab power by filling this gap.

These attitudes reflect those of other Indonesians who often elevate leaders in their minds and expect them to act strongly and decisively, like former president Soeharto, who ruled for 32 years between 1966 and 1998.

Before civilian politicians replaced Soeharto, the military was the main supplier of the nation's leaders and their popularity has undergone a recent resurgence.

This was most evident in the 2004 presidential election, which saw Yudhoyono and Wiranto -- both retired generals -- placed first and third respectively in the first round of voting. More importantly, politicians with a military background have a strong nationwide network in the armed forces to draw on.

The move to criticize Yudhoyono and the regime was also about sending out a signal. Some of these retired generals likely wanted to alert Yudhoyono that they still posses power. They might also have been angling for political positions in the belief the President was not accommodating their interests.

Most Indonesian generals have inflated ideas about their own leadership qualities, a "wrong" mindset they develop while attending military academies. At school these generals were taught that they were not only the future leaders of the armed forces but also of the country. It is not surprising that some retired generals are unwilling to take ordinary positions in government or politics since the political reforms began in 1998.

Some retired generals, like Wiranto, responded to these changes by entering politics. Wiranto contested the election in 2004 for Golkar and later formed his own political party, which involves fellow retired generals. He believes, therefore, that the current government needs correcting through a democratic mechanism in 2009.

Such political ambitions are valid, but they have been marred by some generals who started discussions about asking the president to step down, impeachments, and revolution. These men do not dare to contest an election. The chief of the National Intelligence Agency, Syamsir Siregar, has expressed worries about this discourse.

Those generals stand a only small chance of seizing power through this activity. Unconstitutional political movements will be strongly opposed by businesspeople, politicians, and the international community, which wield serious power.

However, it is possible that President Yudhoyono will offer these retired generals concessions to pacify them. This would not be a good idea, because Yudhoyono has already been criticized for making too many concessions to political interest groups. It is the nature of policy making that trade-offs are inevitable, however, these rarely satisfy all parties.

Moreover, if the country's economy doesn't get better, discussion of unseating and impeaching the president are likely to increase in frequency.

Also, one should not underestimate the "bandwagon effect" that these ideas may have, drawing in others until they become a reality.

Any coup or impeachment of the President must be resisted. Such acts would only plunge Indonesia into another political and economic crisis and waste all the energy spent establishing a democracy. If the generals want power, they should contest the next election in 2009.

The writer is an analyst with the Indonesian Institute's Center for Public Policy Research. He can be reached at <>

------------ The Straits Times (Singapore) Saturday, January 27, 2007

Yudhoyono draws fire from retired generals

Three of them are leading movements to challenge his administration, with an eye on the 2009 polls

Salim Osman, Indonesia correspondent

JAKARTA - RETIRED military chiefs are marching back into the limelight to challenge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's two-year-old administration.

Former military commander Wiranto set up a new political party, the People's Conscience Party (Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat), last month to serve as his vehicle for the presidential election in 2009.

Retired General Try Sutrisno and former Army chief Tyasno Sudarto are leading their own opposition movements to question the legitimacy of the Yudhoyono administration.

Their emergence, one after the other, has pushed the political temperature here to a new high, though analysts believe the former military chiefs will not unsettle the government any time soon.

The three have been critical of Dr Yudhoyono's administration in the past few months for failing to eradicate corruption, tackle poverty and address the high cost of living and rampant unemployment.

There has been talk about asking Dr Yudhoyono to step down, proceeding with impeachment and even some chatter about a revolution.

All this is in sharp contrast to the days before the 2004 presidential election, during which Dr Yudhoyono, a retired general himself, received backing from most of his peers.

Now, three of them could be signalling their political ambitions to the President, analyst Tata Mustasya of the Indonesian Institute said.

Many of the former military men have been trying to see the President to offer their suggestions, said analyst Sukardi Rinakit of the Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate, a Jakarta-based think-tank.

But apparently the President kept postponing the meetings.

'Hence, in their disappointment, they have come out in the open to air their grievances,' he said.

From this group, analysts believe Gen Wiranto, a failed presidential candidate in the 2004 polls who has made no secret of his intention to run again in 2009, could emerge as a serious challenger to Dr Yudhoyono. The President was once his subordinate in the armed forces.

Meanwhile, former army chief Gen Tyasno caused a stir recently after reports emerged that he had started a 'Revolutionary Council', the purpose of which was not entirely clear.

Dr Yudhoyono promptly dispatched his closest aides - among them top security minister, retired Admiral Widodo Adi Sucipto, and intelligence chief, retired Gen Syamsir Siregar - to investigate.

The two met earlier this week with Gen Tyasno, who was said to have clarified that the council was not going to work to remove Dr Yudhoyono.

Still, trouble could lie ahead for Dr Yudhoyono.

Gen Try's opposition movement, the Gerakan Kebangkitan Indonesia Raya, or the Rise of Greater Indonesia Movement, which started as a forum to channel opposition voices, now includes a call to remove the President.

Gen Try could also have a personal axe to grind with the leader.

His son-in-law, recently retired former army chief General Ryamizard Ryacudu, was denied promotion to become the new military commander early last year.

Gen Ryamizard has now joined forces with the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and is being touted as a likely running mate of Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri when she takes another shot at the presidency in 2009.

The retired generals should not be underestimated, said political observer Andi Widjojanto.

'What they are doing now is actually political manoeuvring in the run-up to the 2009 presidential election but what they do today may have an impact later on,' he noted.

------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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