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SUHARTO BEGAN AN URGENT program to eliminate the influence of Gen. Benny Murdani from the military in 1993 with two reshuffles of officers at the colonel level and above. There were two more similar moves in 1994, three in 1995, two in 1996, and two in 1997. Each involved 100 to 300 senior officers. From 1993 to 1998 the military, primarily the army, continued to be divided into its traditional reform and status quo factions; but an unorganized floating group of fence-sitters grew. The military was loosely tied to Suharto by the power and financial blandishments he was able to provide, but they generally regarded senior officers placed by Suharto at the head of the military as mere puppets at worst or peers at best.

Suharto groomed three officers in this period as possible TNT commanders. The winner of this competition was Gen. Wiranto, adjutant to the president in the 1989-93 period. Wiranto was a Jakarta-oriented staff man more familiar with the in-box than the machine gun pillbox. His rise to power after detaching himself from Suharto’s apron strings was through a fifteen-month command of the Jakarta Military District and a fifteen-month command of the Strategic Reserve. He became TNI commander in February 1998. He lacks field command experience and a network of loyal officers, but he has Suharto’s instinct for power and skill at political manipulation.

Wiranto’s friendly rival, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yuhudhoyono, a respected reformer, was also groomed for the top military post by Suharto. He became TNI chief of staff for social and economic affairs, where he has worked well with Wiranto in opening channels of communication to student groups, while cautioning them, however, to confine their activities to their campuses to avoid a crackdown by military hard liners.

The loser in the three-way competition was Gen. Prabowo Subianto, Suharto’s controversial son-in-law who apparently even Suharto did not trust. Nevertheless, Suharto used Prabowo and his other loyal janissaries to do whatever dirty work was necessary. Their motto was asal bapak senang (whatever the boss wants), but their freebooting extra-legal activities outside the chain of command and mounting appetite for violence sowed confusion in senior ranks. Meanwhile the professionalized reform-minded faction became increasingly estranged from Suharto. The president’s ruthless use of Prabowo and his military and militia thugs and gangsters in ousting Megawati from leadership of the PDI in 1996 deepened this estrangement. Five persons were killed and disturbances erupted throughout the nation: Ujung Panjang in South Sulawesi, Medan, Flores, Ambeno in East Timor, Tasikmalaya, Tanah Abang, West Kalimantan, Bandung, Lombok, Rengasdenklok. The lid of repression was blowing off. Election year 1997 came and the Suhartoist military faction missed few opportunities to strong arm GOLKAR to a highly questionable 74.5 percent victory. It was the most violent election in Indonesia’s history; at least 250 persons lost their lives.

The military did not have monolithic views on countering or cooperating with Suharto. The factions were characterized by age, regional, religious, and ethnic differences that cut across lines. Another set of cross-cutting differences arose from attitudes toward the traditional dwi-fungsi or dual-function mission of the military as having both classic security responsibilities and a socioeconomic role. The two missions largely overlapped because the military performed a basically internal security role with secret police functions, while simultaneously acting in tandem with or actually being appointed to the national administrative bureaucracy. This bureaucracy had the appearance of and manifested many of attitudes and values of the prewar Dutch bureaucratic model. It was part of the top-down hierarchical political and cultural system. Army officers and noncoms held positions which matched and dominated the administrative structure.

This territorial structure was and is the heart and soul of military political power. Territorial military officials monitored political and social counterparts and prodded them as needed. Military permission was required to travel, to organize meetings, to issue publications, and to deliver sermons in mosques and churches. The continuing reality is that a military Panglima heads each of the seventeen military regions or KODAMs. There are four in Sumatra, three in Java, three in Kalimantan (Borneo), two in Sulawesi, one based in Bali covering Timor, one in Ambon covering both Maluku and the Spice Trade Moluccas, and one in West Irian (West New Guinea) based at Jayapura. The provincial governors are subject to the authority of the KODAM. Military resort commands are the next level commanded by KOREMS. They correspond to the former position of resident in the Dutch bureaucracy. One tier further down are military district commanders or KODIM, whose counterparts are civilian Bupatis. At the subdistrict level are the KORAMIL, who are counterparts to the sub-district administrative officials. Below this structure down to the village are the BABINSA, who are noncommissioned officers with authority over villages and village headmen (lurah).

In the past, a military officer would normally rise in rank based on territorial performance, as well as military proficiency. Their initial assignment would be at the KORAMIL sub-district level, and they would move back and forth from such positions to other outright military commands and higher administrative levels. Territorial commands were prized for their economic potential. The best battalion commanders became KODIM or district officials. The best brigade commanders became KOREM, the equivalent of residents in the old Dutch system. Persons deemed to be on the fast-track for promotion were strenuously trained in “guidance operations” such as intelligence work in a pre-election period, the targeting of influential persons, the monitoring of political party activity, and the use of intimidation. Thus, authorities at the Jakarta level could target individuals at every level of society; military officers were able to issue orders to any officials. Since such officials were typically members of GOLKAR, the system normally ran smoothly. In any event, the military had the power to arrest or detain anyone who might threaten the “success” of a general election.

The elements that bound the faction together was a common view that the military was above the government and was the protector of the state, that it was the embodiment of Indonesian nationalism. This sense of purpose is a deeply shared value. The military is dedicated to the ideal of the unitary state and shares a common hatred for federalism, which has been an excuse in the past for regional rebellions and which could lead to the breakup of a great nation with a great purpose into meaningless powerless units. Thus, the military has felt justified in using whatever force was necessary to crush local autonomy in Timor, Aceh, or elsewhere.. The military retains a pervasive fear of communism, as well as a hatred of political Islam. Generally, the military remains dedicated also to its dual-function mission, although some senior officers have expressed concern that dwifungsi has impaired military efficiency and should be gradually ended.

As must be clear, changing this apparatus of control will not be an easy or quick task. Reform at the top will require cohesion that is currently lacking. Even if cohesion is achieved, it will trickle down only slowly to local, district, and provincial military satraps. Officers who are not on the fast track to national prominence tend to enjoy extended assignments at the territorial level where they are powerful and where opportunities for personal enrichment abound. This is in part the story of East Timor, which was not considered a career-enhancing assignment for the best officers or noncoms. However, power, long assignments, economic opportunity, and virtual colonial authority made East Timor assignments attractive to certain types of officers, especially since Jakarta paid little attention to the area. One such officer was Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of President Suharto, a Special Forces officer who was eventually able to turn East Timor into a personal fief and a training ground for Special Forces black operations. He extended his protection to the notorious East Timor “NINJA” criminals and used them in extra-legal operations involving torture, extortion, murder, kidnapping, etc., in other regions of the nation before and after he become Special Forces commander in 1995. (See Douglas Kammen, “ Notes on the Transformation of the East Timor Military command and Implications for the U.S.,” Indonesia 67, April 1999, Cornell Modern Indonesia Project.)

By 1997, the regime of President Suharto began the inexorable loss of legitimacy that led to his resignation on May 15, 1998. The 1997 economic crisis removed Suharto’s most basic claim to legitimacy, which was successful economic development. At the beginning of 1997 the number of those beneath the poverty line was 10 percent; the number climbed to 50 percent by the end of 1997. As noted, the 1997 election led to nationwide violence. The military leadership was disorganized and confused. The hermetic world of Suharto’s Indonesia was forcibly opened by the 1997 economic and financial trauma which required IMF intervention. The IMF demanded reforms that caused Suharto to have to choose between his interests and those of his family, as against the interests of the nation. He chose to protect his personal interests in the October 1997 and January 1998 IMF agreements.

Suharto compounded his political and economic errors in the March 1998 Peoples Consultative Assembly elections for president and vice president by choosing his crony B.J. Habibie as vice president. Habibie was bitterly disliked by the military. With virtual contempt, Suharto chose an unseemly cabinet containing his toady golf partner, Sino-Indonesian timber magnate Bob Hassan, and his ambitious and distrusted daughter Tutut. Suharto’s normally adept political instincts faltered in this period as his contacts were by now limited to the sycophantic and opportunistic family and crony circle. He appears to have lost contact with the fast-changing external reality. He had little public support. In fact, public opinion was steadily mounting against him and his regime particularly among students, who mounted increasingly large demonstrations.

The military status quo hard liners were by now Suharto’s main support. Four of the eleven most influential military positions by 1998 were under the influence of his son-in-law Gen. Prabowo, a fifth member of this group, having been named commander of the Strategic Reserve in February, 1998. Prabowo had made his career in the Special Forces, largely in East Timor. He was assigned there in 1976, 1978, 1983, and 1988. He had been relieved of his command in 1988 by Benny Murdani for abuse of authority. Nevertheless, Suharto wangled an 1998 appointment for him as a battalion commander in the Strategic Reserve. By 1995, Prabowo was commander of the Special Forces. He succeeded Wiranto in 1998 as Strategic Reserve commander when Wiranto became TNI Commander.


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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:
Warburg 2000 Conference

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