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Indonesia's Wiranto: Reform as a military duty
By Kafil Yamin

JAKARTA - Indonesia's former armed forces chief and would-be president, General Wiranto, is all for reforms to make the country truly democratic and have a more professional military, but he believes this reformasi should be guided by the military itself.

"Reformasi can be lost. It can lead to national disintegration. Then reformasi would bring nothing to this country but disaster and national demise," he said. "In this case, the military has a constitutional duty to avoid this ... happening," explained Wiranto, 56, who this month announced that he would run for president in Indonesia's first direct presidential election next year.

Few are surprised by his theories on political reforms in Indonesia after Suharto's rule. But the bigger worry for critics is how he will fare - how voters of this country of 220 million people will judge a man associated with armed forces known for human-rights accusations during Suharto's three decades in power.

"How can a controversial figure like Wiranto, who is facing charges of crimes against humanity, get away with his ambition to run for the presidency?" asked Bambang Wijoyanto of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation.

But then again, "people think that anybody can run for the presidency as long as he or she can meet the requirements and [go through a] political convention", argued J Kristiadi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Indonesian politics does not yet have a standard and measurement of democracy," he added. "So what's wrong with Wiranto's candidacy?"

How Wiranto fares will be as much about Indonesia as it is about the former armed forces chief. Wiranto was nominated as presidential candidate by the Indonesia Labor Congress Party and Red and White Youth Guard - red and white being the colors of the Indonesian flag.

Salim Said, a military expert, said, "Yes, he is facing serious charges and is known to be involved in the misuse of the Rp10 billion [US$1.1 million] fund of Bulog [the national logistics agency for rice and sugar]. But he still can get away."

Wiranto is accused of using these funds to organize civilian security, including pro-Jakarta militia, during the 1999 East Timor referendum on approval of then president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie. He has also been accused of doing little to prevent the killings by the military-backed militia, which was opposed to East Timor's separation from Indonesia. So far, Said noted, "he has been able to distance himself from the two cases".

"To some groups of society in Indonesia, someone who is facing foreign charges and international pressures initiated by the West is often regarded as 'national hero'," he added. "Radical Muslim groups and youth close to the military share such a mindset."

Likewise, many Indonesians are either unaware of and or unconcerned about allegations on his human-rights record.

"I do not know about those kinds of things. What I do know is that he is a general and he can sing very well. He has a good voice and I like his singing," said a homemaker in Bandung, West Java.

Indeed, Wiranto has recorded a music album and donated money from its sales to victims of communal clashes in Maluku and Kalimantan and refugees in Aceh province, which has long resented military rule and since May has been under martial rule.

But whatever he does to shore up his image, Wijoyanto said of Wiranto's candidacy: "The most direct impact of his rise to power is that reformasi will be less worthy. He is the representation of the old power and he will 'forgive' the past mistakes," including the atrocities of the military.

"He has said 'forget the past and let's focus and work for the future'," recalled Wijoyanto. "It means that law enforcement will have no precedence."

Kristiadi agrees that Wiranto represents the old system packaged in a new candidate. "Wiranto is not a man who is sincerely willing to accept civilian leadership," he said. "Wiranto is a pure military man and democratic societies favor civilian leadership. That is the standard."

But Wiranto said: "What I have been trying to do, and what I am still trying to do, is to serve the nation. I am determined to give what is the best for the nation. But what I got is attempts to see me as the enemy of this nation."

Some say Indonesians' frustrations with politics and the economy since 1998, when Suharto was ousted from power, may play to Wiranto's advantage.

"He is aware he is not the best, but he knows he might be better than the worst," said Fachry Ali of the Institute of Business Ethical Studies and Development.

He said that apart from Wiranto, the likely candidates are incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, House Speaker Akbar Tanjung, who has been found guilty of corruption, and Prabowo Subianto, a son-in-law of Suharto and general discharged for masterminding the 1998 May riots. "Compared to them, Wiranto has more credit," Ali said.

During the height of the fears about the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Asia, one joke that made the rounds here was that Indonesia remained under siege by its own version of SARS - "Saya amat rindu Suharto," meaning "I really miss Suharto."

It is an expression of public yearning for a situation where the prices of basic necessities are affordable, employment rates are good, and there is stability. "Wiranto is the answer to such yearning," Ali added.

Some point out that Wiranto had done his share of reform. He removed Prabowo from the Army Strategic Reserve Command, known by the Indonesian acronym Kostrad.

Added Taufik Darusman, chairman of the New Indonesia Party: "Wiranto is the one who reviewed the armed forces' dual function [military and political roles]. He is the one who separated the police from the military."

He initiated the gradual reduction of the number of military seats in the House of Representatives, a system put in place under Suharto, he added. "So by any standard, Wiranto is a reformist. Say, a military reformist."

But Kristiadi retorted: "This is trial and error. People can make the right or wrong choice. If Wiranto can ascend to power, then I will come to the conclusion that people made the wrong choice in the context of a democracy."

(Inter Press Service)
 
Aug 30, 2003



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