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Indonesia Military May Regain Lead Role

by Kafil Yamin

Indonesia Fears New Era Of Repression
(IPS) JAKARTA -- After Megawati Sukarnoputri was installed as Indonesia's president nearly two weeks ago, Jakarta's military and police chiefs danced to celebrate the change in power from ousted President Abdurrahman Wahid.

"We have to celebrate it. It would be a sin if we do not," Anton Bachrul Alam, head of the information bureau of the Jakarta police, said of Megawati's rise to the presidency on July 23.

The celebratory mood by military chief Maj. Gen. Bibit Waluyo, Jakarta police chief Inspector Gen. Sofjan Jocoeb, along with hundreds of soldiers and policemen, was symbolic.

It spoke not only of the powerful military's support for Megawati -- and of worries that it would play a key role in her Cabinet, to be named next week -- but of what appears to be the public's changing attitude toward the armed forces' role in the country.

This may even lead to the Indonesian military regaining some of the political clout it had enjoyed for decades.

Given the military's key role in Wahid's impeachment and in allowing Megawati's assumption through a session of the country's highest legislative body, speculation is rife about the shape of Megawati's government and military's influence in it.

Since Suharto's downfall in 1998, the military has chosen to take a neutral position in politics and refrain from being involved in social conflicts, although it still has allocated seats in the legislature.

Some even say the armed forces have learned to stay away from politics. But political analyst Arbi Sanit says the military has acquired more clout in a different way.

"They have succeeded in creating a public perception that without the military, things will go even worse," he said.

In recent years, and especially during Wahid's term, many Indonesians have become fed up with prolonged conflicts among politicians. Some of these have sparked violent clashes among their constituents and did little to help Indonesia's painful economic problems.

"People are getting tired of political quarrels that even hamper economic recovery. They remember the 'normal' situation under military power," Sanit maintained.

"They have come to conclude that economic and political stability with little freedom is much better than starving and being frustrated with full freedom," he argued.

"But the most important achievement (of the military) is the public perception that without giving a central role to the military, the government will not be effective," he added.

Some now say that Megawati is aware that she must give political concessions to the military.

Analysts speculate that at least two ministerial posts -- coordinating minister for political, social and security affairs and defence minister -- are likely to be allotted to the military.

If Megawati lets the military be, it would also maintain its business ventures, ranging from forestry, plantation, real estate and hotels to agriculture -- a legacy of the armed forces' political role during the Suharto years.

There is speculation that Megawati has agreed to exclude these corporations from the race among political parties to acquire control of state firms.

Horse-trading and stiff jockeying for concessions is believed to be the reason for the delay in naming Megawati's Cabinet. Leaders of different political parties have been gathered at her residence since yesterday morning in their bid to seek key positions.

Some say the delay in naming a Cabinet reveals Megawati's trademark overcautiousness, but there could be other reasons.

Recently, acting Defense Minister Mahfud warned political parties that Megawati might turn to the military to fill key positions if political parties keep squabbling over them.

"There has been public opinion that civilians are not capable. The last two years' experience proved this. The people will say: food first, reformasi next," he said.

"This is an advantage for the military," he added.

For instance, Udung Supriatna, a former village head in Bandung, West Java, says the presence of the military in the government administration is a must in this unstable situation.

"We no longer need mighty generals in the government offices like under Suharto, but I think we need several powerful gentlemen in the Cabinet who can help create social stability," Supriatna said. "Businesses can only be back to life when there is stability."

Eddy Hasanah, a mother of two sons, says she is disappointed with civilian politicians in the years since Suharto's fall.

"Every day, I watch them quarrelling on television about the same things, with no concrete action. On the streets people kill each other, frustrated with hiking prices and unemployment," she said. "I am tired of all that."

Indeed, Wahid's last days in power were a lesson by the military to any potential ruler of the world's biggest Muslim country.

Wahid's attempt to dissolve the parliament, which had begun meeting on July 21 to impeach him, by imposing a state of emergency was ineffective. The military openly said it would not obey such an order, allowing the impeachment to proceed.

Megawati rose to the presidency after Wahid's rivals in the House and the military, disappointed by his inability to govern and chafing at his attempts to assert civilian authority during his tenure, threw their weight behind her.

The military also played a key role in the election of vice president of Hamzah Haz of the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP).

The armed forces successfully prevented Akbar Tanjung of the Golkar party, the former ruling party during the Suharto years, from rising to the vice presidency, aided by public resistance.

Agum Gumelar and Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono, two retired generals who ran for vice president, were said to have given their votes to Hamzah Haz after being outvoted in the second round of the election.

Said Sanit: "Had Gumelar and Yudhoyono given their votes to other candidates, things would be different."

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Albion Monitor August 6, 2001 (

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