|Indonesia's Wiranto: Reform as a military
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
"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?"
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."
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
"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
"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.
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
"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.
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.
out that Wiranto had done his share of reform. He
removed Prabowo from the Army Strategic Reserve Command,
known by the Indonesian acronym Kostrad.
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."
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
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."