Subject: Notes on the Indonesian Military and the New Government

Notes on the Indonesian Military and the New Government November 3, 1999 John Roosa

1. The new president Gus Dur has appointed six military officers to his cabinet of thirty five ministers. They are: Gen. Wiranto Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Lt. Gen. Surjadi Soedirdja Minister for Home Affairs Lt. Gen. S. B. Yudhoyono Minister of Mines and Energy Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar Minister of Transportation and Communications Rear Admiral Freddy Numberi State Administrative Reforms Admiral Widodo Commander of the Military

2. Gen. Wiranto has been removed as from his dual post as Minister of Defense and Commander of the Military. However, he has been shifted to a very powerful post, a kind of super-ministerial post that was held by Gen. Feisal Tanjung in the last cabinet. The post oversees the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, home affairs, and law. It is an odd and superfluous post that reformists have suggested scrapping; each ministry can function well enough on its own. That Gus Dur has not only kept this "coordinating" post but has given it to a pillar of the old Suharto regime represents his most significant betrayal of the reform agenda. The army, through this post, monitors the work of the key ministries and is in a position to hinder and even block their work.

3. The Minister for Home Affairs, also held by an army officer, controls the appointments and performance of the "civilian" administration: the village chiefs, district chiefs, governors, etc. The public has hoped that the many military officers presently holding these posts would be removed and that the administration would become a truly civilian one. With a retired general in charge of the ministry, one can expect that this process of reducing the military's presence in the administration is going to be very slow.

4. The new Defense Minister, Juwono Sudarsono, is a civilian, at least nominally. He is a Professor of Politics at the University of Indonesia. He doesn't have a rank in the military and doesn't wear a uniform but he has been employed by the military before. He was the Vice-Governor (or vice-chancellor one could say) of the military's think tank and elite officer school, the National Resilience Institute, for three years, from 1995 to 1997. He once said: "For the next five years, there will not be any civilian leader that is suitable to accept the central national leadership as president or vice-president. The national leadership will still rest on ABRI. The civilians must still prepare themselves. We need national leadership that has a clear direction and experience. And for the moment, that is from ABRI, especially the Army." (September 8, 1997; quoted in Forum Keadilan, 7 November 1999) He has not been an advocate of reform and has been cozy with the Suharto regime and its cronies. Suharto appointed him Environmental Minister in 1998 (in the cabinet that lasted a month). Habibie appointed him Minister of Education and Culture. Wiranto suggested Gus Dur appoint him to be Defense Minister. The fact that Sudarsono is a civilian has only symbolic importance. Under Suharto, there was one civilian Defense Minister, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX (1973-78). He made no difference.

5. The two most lucrative and corrupt ministries -- a) Mines and Energy, and b) Transport and Communications -- have been put under army officers. The military is already heavily involved in the corruption and violence of these sectors of the economy. For the mining companies, which are mostly foreign, the army evicts the existing inhabitants from the land so the mine can be built and than rents out its soldiers as security guards once the fences are up and the mine is operating. The military's own businesses are concentrated in the trucking and shipping sectors. Gus Dur said in an interview that the military's dual function has to continue for the next five years because "the double function is related to the personal income levels of military personnel. First, we have to solve that problem." (Expresso, 23 Oct. 1999) It appears he has decided to "solve that problem" by ensuring that the military, the army in particular, has its businesses, investments, and jobs protected by ministers from the army.

6. The military claims that all of the officers who are serving in the cabinet, except the commander of the military, will retire from active duty service. This is a rule the military devised after the fall of Suharto: those in the civilian government have to remove themselves from active duty. This is only a symbolic transformation for an officer. The military conceives of itself as a "extended family" that includes retired officers. As ministers, these officers will defend the military's political and economic interests. It is not even definite that they will retire. It turns out that despite the rule Lt. Gen. Hendropriyono served in Habibie's cabinet without retiring. The rule is the military's own and it is up to the military to follow it or not.

7. The new commander of the military, Admiral Widodo, is a Navy officer. Under Suharto the commander was always drawn from the army. This appointment is a positive break from the past. It accords with Gus Dur's emphasis on maritime matters. However, one must note that Widodo has been serving as assistant commander (panglima) under Wiranto. One must also note that the army controls the appointments of navy officers at and above the rank of colonel. Widodo got to be admiral and Wiranto's assistant by knowing how to please the army. We should not expect that Widodo is going to seriously limit the army's present power just because he is from the navy which is filled with officers disgruntled with the army's dominance.

8. A group of 17 active duty military officers released a book on October 28 that advocated an end to the dual-function. The officers claimed to represent a "reformist" tendency within the military. (Jakarta Post, 29 Oct. 1999) One must treat their reformism with some skepticism. While their book does perhaps mark the first time since 1965 that active duty officers have openly opposed the dual function of the military, this could well be nothing more than a rhetorical position designed for public relations purposes. The military has always monitored public discourse and adapted its own rhetoric accordingly without changing its everyday practice. One of the 17 co-authors is Col. Cornel Simbolon, the military commander for Lampung district whose troops shot and killed two students and ransacked Lampung University last month. While he is putting his name to a call for the military to remove "unworthy" officers who commit "weird" actions, he has not disciplined the guilty officers under his own command. Over the past 30 years, the military has been constantly saying it is reforming and professionalizing itself. Foreign scholars and governments supporting the military have been consistently claiming there was some reform-minded faction that had to be assisted, that not all the officers were bad eggs guilty of the heinous crimes the military was committing. This has been the merry-go-round of reform. Remember when Prabowo was the reformist? And then Wiranto? Every time their chosen reformist commits crimes against humanity he turns into a bad egg hardliner; then a new reformist is found and the culture of impunity continues. For a recent instance of this absurd reformers vs. hardliners logic, see the op-ed in last week's Far Eastern Economic Review by the former US defense attache to the US embassy in Jakarta, John Haas. Haas argued the same thing after the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991. With this logic, every crime that the Indonesian military commits becomes a reason to continue, even increase, support to it.

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

Search this site                 powered by FreeFind

If your browser does do not support forms use: Search   Site Map   What's New

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