Indonesia: Ex-generals ready for election
battle By Andreas Harsono and Jim
JAKARTA - In mid-May 1998, as rioters were
ransacking business areas and looting properties owned
by Chinese-Indonesians in Jakarta, General Wiranto, then
Indonesia's military chief, was approached by his No 2,
Lieutenant-General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. According
to Yudhoyono's biography Sang Demokrat ("The
Democrat"), president Suharto himself bunkered in his
residence on a leafy street in Central Jakarta as
student protesters were occupying the parliament
building and demanding that he step down from power.
Yudhoyono asked Wiranto: "Do you have any plan
to take over power?" Wiranto replied, "No. I don't have
any shred of idea about taking over power. It is
unconstitutional." Yudhoyono immediately shook Wiranto's
hand, saying: "Sir, if that is the case ... I am with
This conversation was unknown to the
public until Yudhoyono published his biography two
Today, six years later, Wiranto and
Yudhoyono - both retired from the military - are still
popular because of their decision not to grab power and
allow Suharto to exit, thus ushering in Indonesia's
transition to democracy. They are also candidates
competing with civilian counterparts in the July 5
presidential race and challenging, too, their former
boss, President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Washington, politicians and officials of all stripes are
taking a dim view of the prospect of Wiranto becoming
president of a country seen as key in the US-led "war on
Space for change Looking
back, the two military officers' decision to keep the
military out of the presidency won kudos on the grounds
that it allowed Indonesia the space for change - in
succeeding years, the country held a democratic election
and civilian governments began to lead the country.
After all, in the days leading up to Suharto's stepping
down from power on May 21, 1998, there were hawkish
generals who planned to crack down on protesters as
Chinese officials did in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
More recently, Yudhoyono's Democrat Party got 7
percent of the parliamentary votes during the April 5
parliamentary elections, while Wiranto won Golkar
Party's presidential nomination on April 20 - thus
setting the stage for their presidential candidacies.
Golkar, which Suharto created in the 1960s, is now the
country's strongest political party, with 20 percent of
the votes. After the April 5 election, it is set to
control almost a quarter of the 550-seat parliament.
Megawati's party only secured the second position, with
19 percent of the votes.
But the two retired
generals' popularity is not without controversy.
Wiranto, who used to be an adjutant to Suharto, was
indicted for crimes against humanity last year by United
Nations-backed prosecutors in East Timor. Prosecutors
there charge that he failed to stop his soldiers and
pro-Indonesia militia from killing nearly 1,500 people
in 1999, after East Timorese voted for independence from
Wiranto has repeatedly denied any
wrongdoing and claimed that he had tried to stop the
violence. Testifying at one of the Human Rights Court
hearings instituted in Jakarta to look into the East
Timor debacle - no military figures were convicted - he
argued that the East Timorese had been fighting each
other "for 23 years" anyway, since the Indonesian
invasion in 1975.
Why Wiranto worries
Washington A Suharto favorite, Wiranto rose to
the military's top position in the mid-1990s and
reportedly played a role in persuading Suharto to end
his 30-year reign in 1998. But one year later, he was
implicated in the army-orchestrated mayhem that followed
the overwhelming vote by the East Timorese people in
favor of independence from Indonesia, which had invaded
and later annexed the territory.
be embarrassed to select someone who has been indicted
for crimes against humanity as its presidential
candidate," said Brad Adams, who directs the Asia
Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York City.
"If Golkar has really reformed itself after the massive
rights violations of the Suharto years, it should be
distancing itself from its dark past instead of
embracing it," he added in a statement.
who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, is
considered likely to try to use his good looks and tough
image, as well as the growing nostalgia for the Suharto
era, to unseat Megawati when Indonesians go the polls in
their first direct presidential election on July 5.
Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's first president,
Sukarno, has declined sharply in popularity over the
past two years, largely as a result of a lagging
economy, growing corruption, the military's failure to
achieve a clear victory over pro-independence rebels in
Aceh province and the perception that she has not been
seriously engaged in governing.
Since coming to
office, and particularly since the September 11, 2001,
attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the administration
of US President George W Bush has seen Indonesia as a
key part of its "war on terror", and has made little
secret of its desire to restore the close military ties
that were in effect suspended under the previous
administration of Bill Clinton after the violence that
leveled East Timor in 1999.
Since September 11,
the Bush administration has restored some security
assistance - mainly in the form of anti-terrorism aid -
but Congress has insisted that certain conditions be met
before relations can be fully normalized.
January, US legislators approved a provision of the 2004
foreign-aid bill that maintains a ban on US government
financing of weapons sales, export licenses for certain
kinds of military equipment and participation in a State
Department-administered military training for Indonesia
until Jakarta fully cooperates in the investigation and
prosecution of military units that are believed to have
killed two US teachers and their Indonesian colleague in
an ambush in West Papua in 2002.
the bill requires Indonesia to extradite those indicted
by the joint UN-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit, conduct
a public audit of the military's funds and prosecute
credible cases of serious human-rights abuses believed
to have been carried out by the military or
military-backed militias. The Bush administration
opposed the provision.
Wiranto, as well as
several other senior Indonesian military officials, was
indeed indicted by the Crimes Unit, although an arrest
warrant has still to be issued. Soon after the
indictment was handed down in February 2003, the State
Department placed Wiranto on its visa watch list,
meaning he could be barred from entering the United
Although the US ambassador in Jakarta
said last week that Wiranto would be treated as a head
of state if he were to win the election, most officials
and independent analysts believe that his record could
make relations more difficult, particularly compared
with a reformer such as Yudhoyono, who has not been
implicated in major rights abuses or corruption.
Even right-wing US analysts see Wiranto's
election as highly problematic. In a paper issued on
Thursday, Dana Dillon of the Washington-based Heritage
Foundation called Wiranto both "passive and corrupt",
but warned against explicit condemnations of the
general. According to Dillon, such statements would
likely be used to fuel a nationalist backlash,
particularly given the strong rise in anti-American
sentiment as Washington has pursued its "war on
terrorism". The vast majority of Indonesians are
But rights groups are unrestrained in
their criticism of Wiranto's candidacy, with the East
Timor Action Network (ETAN) calling for his arrest and
prosecution by a yet-to-be-established international
tribunal for East Timor.
"We urge the US
Congress and Bush administration to withhold all
military assistance for Indonesia until Wiranto and
others responsible for crimes against humanity in East
Timor and Indonesia are brought to justice in judicial
processes consistent with international standards," said
ETAN's director, John Miller.
HRW called for
other countries aside from the United States to bar
Wiranto from visiting them. "Countries with a commitment
to the rule of law and justice should send a message
that Wiranto's election could make Indonesia a pariah
state that they would have difficulty dealing with,"
Yudhoyono: Rising star In
any case, both Megawati and Wiranto are considered
underdogs to retired Yudhoyono, the candidate of the
newly formed Democratic Party, who served until recently
as one of Megawati's chief advisers. In the latest
polls, he led Megawati 44-21 percent.
like Wiranto, Yudhoyono made his career in the military,
he has long favored separating the army, which in effect
ruled the country through Golkar during the Suharto
dictatorship, from the government and from the many
businesses and monopolies it operates. Wiranto, on the
other hand, has been seen as a promoter of the
military's interests in both politics and the economy.
Still, Yudhoyono is not entirely free of
controversy. According to Miller, as Wiranto's chief of
territorial affairs, Yudhoyono took no action on reports
that the Indonesian soldiers and militia were
intimidating the East Timorese in advance of the UN-run
"Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's record
shows that as president he is unlikely to rein in
Indonesia's increasingly assertive military. The former
general is also unlikely to support genuine efforts to
hold members of the security forces accountable for
crimes against humanity in East Timor and Indonesia,"
But East Timor is not a big
political issue in the psyche of most Indonesians today.
It was a former Portuguese colony, unlike the other
Dutch-controlled parts of Indonesia. East Timor is also
a relatively poor and much smaller territory of about
800,000 people, tiny compared with Indonesia's 220
This psyche is also well
understood by the foreign diplomats in Jakarta. "We can
work with anybody that comes out from a free [election]
process," US Ambassador Ralph Boyce said on Thursday.
East Timor Attorney General Longinus Montero said that
Wiranto's trial might not materialize for lack of
evidence. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
said: "We have to work with whoever wins."
General appeal Wiranto's and
Yudhoyono's appeal inside Indonesia is straightforward.
They come from the main island of Java, whose ethnic
population accounts for some 40 percent of Indonesia's
various ethnic groups. The two generals have relatively
deep pockets. To some voters, their military background
is a positive quality when it comes to security and
decisiveness - traits they have missed under Megawati.
Wiranto has been criss-crossing the archipelago
in the past six months to seek support. He defeated
Akbar Tanjung, the chairman of Golkar, who lost the
presidential nomination in a tight party vote, and
received 315 votes against Tanjung's 227.
Yudhoyono, who stepped down from Megawati's
cabinet last month, is the front-runner in the
presidential pace, according to opinion polls. His
television appearances have helped boost his personal
approval rating as would-be president to 43 percent in
an April poll by a private institute. A defection by
Tanjung's former rival, Jusuf Kalla, to run as
Yudhoyono's vice president, is also likely to split the
Golkar vote on July 5.
But if, as is widely
expected, no single candidate wins more than 50 percent
of the vote in the July presidential election, a runoff
between the two candidates with the strongest showing
will be held on September 20. At this point, Yudhoyono
and Megawati are quite certain of surviving the first
Paulus Januar of the Indonesian
Catholic Solidarity for Democracy, a caucus of
politicians with Catholic backgrounds, says the
political scene is by no means settled. Wiranto's and
Yudhoyono's candidacies might yet split voters who favor
a strong president, he said: "It might help Megawati
because she will be seen as the only candidate with