Divisions feed Jakarta rumour mill

Issue 

Jana D.K.

JAKARTA — There have been comments recently on President Soeharto's apparently poor health during public appearances. According to a journalist from the Indonesian Observer, prior to his trip to India in December, Soeharto was admitted to the Army Hospital suffering diabetes. According to another rumour, one of his doctors has stated that he has serious heart problems and may not live past 1995.

A major reshuffle within the military is expected soon. Sources close to the high command believe that Faisal Tanjung, commander of the armed forces (ABRI), may soon be shifted sideways. The inaction by ABRI during the massive protests against the state lottery last year, which caused considerable embarrassment to Soeharto and his family, may have caused Soeharto to question Tanjung's loyalty.

Traditionally the commander of the armed forces becomes defence minister, a symbolically important but less powerful position. Edi Sudradjat, however, still holds this position after being ousted in favour of Tanjung last year. Edi is generally considered to be loyal to Benny Moerdani (the ex-defence minister who is staunchly anti-Soeharto), and such a move would create considerable discontent among the ABRI leadership and for Soeharto is probably not worth the risk. It is more likely Tanjung will be pensioned off with some kind of lucrative business interests.

Soeharto's relative Wismoyo Arismundar will become commander of the armed forces, leaving the position of commander of the army vacant. Wismoyo is expected to promote Suryadi, currently deputy chief of the army, to this post. Hendropriyono, currently the military commander of Jakarta, is also predicted to be moved to Kostrad Military Strategic Command, historically a key military appointment and pivotal in the event that open conflict between Soeharto and ABRI erupts.

It is also rumoured that ABRI plans to use the trials of the 22 students arrested in protests late last year to further embarrass Soeharto. Apparently Soeharto is making efforts to have some of the charges quashed and a number of the students released. For ABRI, the trial provides 22 separate defence pleas which, if past experience is any guide, will be a damning indictment against Soeharto.

The government has also announced a restructuring of BAIS, the Strategic Intelligence Body. BAIS and to a lesser extent BAKIN, the Intelligence Coordinating Body, are very much the creations of and an important power base for Benny Moerdani.

For some time now, Soeharto has been replacing Benny's people with officers loyal to him. Although it is unclear how far this plan has proceeded, the fact that he has now been able to publicly announce the move with little or no opposition from ABRI suggests the process has been quite successful.

ABRI is rumoured to have approached outspoken critic of the regime Gus Dor (Abdurrahman Wahid), a member of Democratic Forum and chairperson of the Islamic organisation NU (Natadul Ulama). Apparently ABRI is seeking to persuade Gus Dor to run for the leadership of PPP, the United Development Party — a coalition of Islamic parties forced to merge by the New Order regime in the early '70s.

Gus Dor has stated that he has no such plans, and it is questionable if he would receive endorsement from within the party. Many members are still resentful of Gus Dor's initiative to split NU away from PPP in the mid-'80s.

In addition, ABRI ensured the election of Megawati Sukarnoputri as chair of PDI (Indonesian Democratic Party) and dominates the party's new board of directors. There are suggestions that ABRI may not come behind the government party, Golkar, at the next election. All this indicates the extent to which ABRI's traditional power base in Golkar and the state bureaucracy has been eroded by Soeharto.

There are stories that ABRI has approached radical activists and student groups trying to elicit support in the event of a showdown with Soeharto. Some within the student movement claim that ABRI is already bankrolling a number of such groupings.

Alignments within the military are now crystallised into four major factions. The first, pro-Soeharto, includes such figures as Wismoyo and Soeharto's son-in-law Prabow Djojohadikusumo.

The most openly anti-Soeharto faction is grouped around Benny Moerdani and includes Vice-President Try Sutrisno and defence minister Edi Sudradjat. This group is rumoured to be preparing to move against Soeharto in 1995.

A third faction, officers who are anti-Soeharto but are not game enough to challenge him directly, seems set to act against Soeharto proteges such as Harmoko, the minister of communication, who was recently elected chairperson of Golkar, and Dr Habibie, the minister for research and technology, who has been amassing a major business empire and considerable economic power. Habibie has also incurred the wrath of the armed forces by making decisions on defence spending, such as the recent purchase of the whole East German fleet.

The fourth grouping, based on officers of the Cilangcap command, who control the regional commanders, are less clear in their allegiances. Many of these officers are dissatisfied with Soeharto and are concerned that the regime's policies are excluding ABRI from key economic and political decision making. They are also disappointed by the lack of professionalism within the armed forces.

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