American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

April 2000

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Previously by Ronald Palmer in American Diplomacy:

On the Southeast Asian case in Globalism vs. Economic Nationalism:
"The Southeast Asia financial and economic crisis of 1997 revealed various problems in the region that the surging growth of the early go-go 1990s had obscured. . . . Many seemed to arise from political and economic practices associated with the persistence of inward-looking economic nationalism development strategies designed for yesterday’s world." [Summer 1999]

On the impact of globalization on The Southeast Asia Crisis:
"It is ironic that narrow nationalism and ethnic rivalries have broken out over territories when the very concept of national sovereignty may be losing its meaning as the era of electronic cash and massive hedge funds, the Internet, and other wonders of the Information Age . . ." [Autumn 1998]

Also in this issue:

Theodore Friend, on Confronting the Political and Economic Crisis in Indonesia:
"Because Indonesia envelops the sea lanes between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and is the largest geopolitical factor in Southeast Asia/Southwest Pacific, the destiny of its democracy is vitally important to the region, to American values, and to our interests."

Elsewhere in this issue:
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BALANCE AND HARMONY ARE HIGHLY prized values in complex Indonesia, a state with more than 7,000 islands, 200 million people and hundreds of dialects and cultures where 87 percent of the population is Muslim, but where Christians have traditionally played important roles and where the Chinese are believed to own 74.5 percent or more of the national assets even though they constitute only 3.5 percent of the population. It is appropriate, therefore, that the effort to achieve regional, ethnic, and other balances can be perceived also in the effort to find the balance between repression and reform, particularly in this still-insecure post-Suharto era. The instruments of control — the military, the state party Golongan Karya (GOLKAR), and the presidency — have all been weakened. However, there is little compensating strength in the institutions of the new era. The strength of the new era rests in the possibility of hope and change and the building of democratic institutions. This will take time and the overcoming of many obstacles, but hope exists and change has begun.

There are many dazzling changes that merit optimism. The new leadership team of Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri have brought a high degree of legitimacy to government that the government of President B.J. Habibie never possessed. The dark days of President Suharto seem far away. And yet, the shadow of the Suharto imperium still casts a long shadow across the land.

Giving credit where it is due, it is useful to remember that Habibie was president when the press was unmuzzled, when freedom of assembly was confirmed, along with freedom of political association resulting in the formation of about 148 political parties, when an extraordinarily free election was held, and when there was a peaceful transfer of executive power. Habibie’s impetuous decision to allow a referendum on autonomy or independence can be faulted in many ways, but the fact is that East Timor is free, Indonesian troops have been withdrawn, and the territory is now under UN protection. Ruthless anti-independence forces in Timor remain and will have to be overcome, but President Wahid has established a policy of conciliation that may ease this process.

Indonesia is a top-down society and changes initiated at the top have a fair chance of penetrating to those below. However, while Indonesia is nominally a democracy — indeed the third largest democracy in the world — it is still in the grip of forces of repression that will make the process of further far-ranging change very difficult. Certain factions of the Indonesian military demonstrated just how difficult change will be by their actions in supporting or directly participating in the destruction of the East Timor infrastructure. There is no accurate count yet of deaths that occurred in the process of this destruction, nor is there an accurate count of the East Timorese population that was herded as captives into West Timor, the Indonesian side of the island. But few doubt that both these numbers are large

East Timor was a military fiefdom controlled in a manner that can only be described as colonial. One of the last Dutch governors general in the 1930s, Bonifacius De Yong, reportedly said sometime during his 1931-1936 incumbency that the Kingdom of the Netherlands had held the East Indies for 300 years with the whip and the club and would hold the territory for another 300 years with the whip and the club. This colonial lesson was apparently learned all too well by the Indonesian occupiers of East Timor. Unfortunately, Timor was only one of the territories where the whip and club were applied. Aceh and West New Guinea are vivid examples of the attempted crushing of local desires for autonomy by military force.

Beneath surface reform, military control and repression are the reality that faces the nation. Uprooting this structure will be no easy task. The fact is that the military structure parallels the civil structure at every level of the society. Change at the top has occurred because the military at that level has been confused, uncertain, and factionalized. President Suharto had kept the army leadership off balance in his thirty-two years of rule by carefully cultivating an opportunistic dominant clique or faction which became beholden to him for the economic favors he could give them. This faction was loyal to him as a person, as a politician. Suharto had a great gift for knowing the personal weaknesses or vulnerabilities of those whose support he desired. Senior military officers were no exception. The pattern for present-day officers was established by Suharto’s peers in the Revolutionary Generation of 1945. Some of them like Suharto himself became wealthy in the 1950s by making arrangements with Chinese merchants, who were often smugglers. Suharto was relieved of duty for corruption in 1959. Other officers under his command were also relieved for this reason. Nevertheless, corruption seeped deeply into the military in this period. and many senior officers became extravagantly wealthy, especially after the military took over Dutch economic assets in 1957 during the 1957-1962 period of martial law. Army economic and political power grew in the 1950s and 1960s and President Sukarno’s declaration of “Guided Democracy” in 1959 was designed to balance military power with the growing militant power of the Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI.

Sukarno attempted to swing the allegiance of the senior military to him personally rather than the military chain of command. This effort led eventually to the confrontation between Sukarnoist and Communist forces against the institutional military. Maj. Gen. Suharto emerged as the head of the army. Those who supported him included a fiercely anti-political party faction that launched an anti-communist pogrom in 1965-68 and moved quickly to push other parties to the sidelines. Suharto worked through a junta or cohort of officers who had been with him since his days as a division commander in central Java. Some of these had been relieved of duty with him for corruption by the then-army chief of staff, the austere General Nasution.

In deposing Sukarno, Suharto became acting president in 1967 and president in 1968, whereupon his cronies urgently began the task of legitimating his rule. They did so by building on an army-developed political organization based on non-political groups, Golongan Karya, abbreviated as GOLKAR. This organization became the military instrument of political control. With military support, GOLKAR won the 1971 election for Suharto. Shortly afterwards the four Muslim political parties were forced to consolidate into one party, the Indonesian Development Party, PPP. The five secular parties, including the powerful Indonesian National Party, were forced to regroup into the Indonesian Democratic Party, PDI. They were kept under tight control by military authorities. GOLKAR became dominant at the national and local levels.

However, Suharto had his own agenda, which was to build his personal power. He used this power in 1971 to cover up a luxury automobile smuggling incident involving his family. The illegal activities of his family and his cronies shocked the army faction whose goal was to promote army professionalism, the institution of the army They were not opposed to Suharto’s money-making but were opposed to his becoming president-for-life. This opposition come from Suharto’s fellow officers in the “Generation of 1945,” men who considered they were Suharto’s peers. Their initial goal was to prevent Suharto from winning a second term in 1977. Suharto was able to siphon money from the National Oil Company, PERTAMINA, to win a crushing GOLKAR victory once again. In doing so, he had the assistance from 1974 of a dedicated forty-two-year-old intelligence specialist, Brigadier Gen. Benny Murdani, who was a member of the so-called “Bridging Generation” of officers graduated from the military academy after 1958. Ruthless, brave, devious, imaginative, and able, Murdani planned and led the invasion of East Timor in 1975 and set the tone for the initial brutalization of East Timor in the 1975-1988 period.

Suharto’s generation of 1945 peers had reached retirement age as the 1982 election approached and joined with a third “clean” faction of reformers in the military opposed to mounting corruption to attempt to deny Suharto a third term. They failed. By now, Suharto was beyond army control. Although Murdani was a Suharto protégé, he was above all dedicated to military professionalism and he became a four star general in 1983 when Suharto made him commander in chief of the armed forces and minister of defense and national security. Suharto treated him as a virtual son and a member of his family group. Murdani saw corruption at close hand and became identified with the Army effort to assert its power at the national level against the political dominance of Suharto. Murdani attempted to prevent further deterioration of army institutional strength and morale. He placed men loyal to himself in key positions throughout the military but, a Catholic and fearful of political Islam, Murdani favored non-Muslims and officers with an intelligence backgrounds similar to his own. This created deep resentment against him in the officer corps.

Murdani made the serious mistake in 1988 of confronting Suharto over the economic depredations of the latter’s children. He was fired as TNI commander in 1988, but permitted to retain his nominally powerless post as minister of defense and security. Though humiliated, Murdani held on to the position grimly until the 1993 presidential elections, when he was able to help engineer the appointment of his protégé Gen. Try Sutrisno as vice president. His activities led to his dismissal from this post as well. By 1993, the military was merely the auxiliary of Suharto and the GOLKAR politico-economic elite.


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