September 1999: Military manoeuvres: The Indonesian army
is on the political offensive on the home front. The shift
in the balance of power may leave it giving the orders in
more than just East Timor
Gen Wiranto, defence minister and commander of the Indonesian
armed forces, may have won two battles but could well lose
the war, if not his army.
Wiranto appeared every bit the statesman as he strode into
Indonesia's presidential palace last Thursday, sporting a
smart suit, and checked his appearance in a giant mirror.
Few observers would have guessed that the jovial little man
who met a United Nations mission minutes later, joking with
reporters and rolling his eyes as if he was a stand-up comedian,
was the real president, rather than B.J. Habibie.
men have denied rumours that a coup had taken place, and Mr
Wiranto still refers to Mr Habibie as "my president". But
some Indonesians felt the use of the possessive, in Indonesian,
sounded just a bit too possessive. "Maybe the coup has already
taken place," one diplomat suggests.
one but the insiders really knows how far the power balance
has shifted during last week's tiff over East Timor but, at
the very least, the military have told Mr Habibie that they,
and not the president, are in charge of East Timor.
military has shown that other attempts at autonomy in this
fragmented country, the largest Moslem country in the world,
will be met with force. But at the same time, Gen Wiranto
and his colleagues have damaged the military's reputation
badly enough to diminish its own influence. Mr Habibie had
toyed with inviting UN peacekeepers in early but the military
insisted on completing their operation, a scorched-earth tactic
that eliminates both the infrastructure and the pro-independence
intelligentsia, before withdrawing from East Timor.
diplomats suggest Mr Wiranto has even told Mr Habibie that
the armed forces no longer support him and could send him
packing any time. If he behaves, Mr Habibie may be left in
the palace until presidential elections scheduled for late
October or early November, but he may be forced to drop his
bid for re-election, they suggest.
fact, at least part of the military had abandoned Mr Habibie
earlier and was deemed responsible for leaking embarrassing
tapes - that could be made only by military intelligence -
of telephone conversations.
early removal of Mr Habibie is unlikely. Gen Wiranto was eager
to observe at least the semblance of constitutional process
when he backed Mr Habibie as Mr Suharto's successor last year.
He appears bent on keeping up appearances now, leaving the
election of a new president to the highest legislative, the
People's Consultative Assembly, in late October or early November.
importantly, Gen Wiranto lacks an easy alternative to Mr Habibie
and, it appears, too little political strength of his own
to impose his own choice. "They are sailing on the same boat,"
says Salim Said, a military expert. "Neither of them can afford
to toss the other overboard."
his stand-off with the outside world, Gen Wiranto has scored
a pyrrhic victory at best. Deadlines from UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan came and went, sanction threats escalated, but
Indonesian soldiers were still assisting pro-Indonesian militia
in bestial attacks on unarmed refugees. Half an hour after
a UN mission toured the East Timorese capital of Dili and
left on Saturday, shooting erupted again.
Wiranto appeared to relent over the weekend, agreeing with
Mr Habibie that foreign peacekeepers would be allowed in early.
Neither he nor Mr Habibie gave any indication when that would
be. At the first hint of such a policy change last Friday,
he had insisted that his military "will first calm down the
situation in East Timor, so that when a UN peacekeeping force
comes in they will be welcomed by all levels of the East Timorese
handover of East Timor has not been in serious doubt as Gen
Wiranto endorsed the results of last month's referendum on
independence from Indonesia. Moving in peacekeepers will make
little difference if he allows his military to destroy East
military would have achieved its apparent objective of showing
to the rest of Indonesia, and to the world, that any region
pondering secession is asking for trouble. Foreign governments
sympathetic to the notion of self-determination, such as the
US, will think twice before supporting Acehnese or Irianese
independence movements elsewhere in Indonesia. Gen Wiranto
made a telling faux pas when, in a meeting with visiting UN
ambassadors last Friday, he kept referring to his subordinates
as his "insubordinates". Earlier this month, the general and
his staff arrived in Dili's Komoro airport but got no further,
offering the most tangible sign that Gen Wiranto may not be
in control of his troops and some senior officers.
assumption that Gen Wir anto was the "good guy" facing insubordinate
officers in a series of incidents long held sway among diplomats
in Jakarta, and deterred direct pressure on him. They ignored
evidence that Gen Wiranto was at least allowing his military
to obstruct policies of Mr Habibie, and by January he had
removed most of his supposed rivals.
Said is a defender of Gen Wiranto but his own analysis leaves
the general very much responsible for his army's actions.
"There is no breach in the chain of command," says Mr Said.
"Stop thinking of this as a western army." Mr Said suggests
that rather than breaking up, the line of command is diluted
as it goes down the ranks. Most analysts see Gen Wiranto as
in control by Indonesian standards, but too weak to discipline
his officers or even troops for ignoring his orders all across
Indonesia in the past year. Gen Wiranto's style is Javanese,
in that he does not publicly humiliate anyone, but quietly
sidelines his rivals. Western notions of discipline are secondary,
and assumed counter- productive.
East Timor, most of all, Gen Wiranto's own ambivalence about
the referendum, imposed by Mr Habibie without consultation
with the military, has allowed lower-ranking officers to push
the limits of his tolerance and exceed or ignore orders.
last week, the outside world concluded that the "good guy"
theory was either wrong or no longer relevant amid the killings.
US President Bill Clinton and UN ambassadors switched to blaming
Gen Wiranto directly over the weekend for events in East Timor.
are failing the international community, you are failing the
people of East Timor and you are failing Indonesia," UN ambassador
Martin Andjaba told Gen Wiranto last Friday. "Perhaps it is
a question of lack of political will on your side."
much Gen Wiranto is the victor, therefore, is open to question.
He had long been considered the prime candidate for the vice-presidency
under either Mr Habibie or Megawati Sukarnoputri, both weak
figures who need the military votes in the assembly to get
elected, but now he will be a liability to any new government.
home, he will be held responsible for failure to restore order
in East Timor, while the outside world directly blames him
for organising the massacres. Any government with Gen Wiranto
in it cannot claim to have a clean slate, which may affect
restoration of aid to Indonesia. This would be the first challenge
for a new government, due to take office at the end of the
year, probably under Ms Megawati.
than losing his personal war in the end, Gen Wiranto is certainly
losing a war for his country. The East Timor crisis, coming
on the back of an embarrassing banking scandal, has already
helped undo much of this year's recovery of the rupiah and
share prices, masked only partly by central bank interventions.
US and Britain have hit his military by cutting off training
and arms sales. The Paris Club of creditor nations has taken
the lead in adopting sanctions that hurt the whole nation,
by delaying any discussion on Indonesian debt rescheduling
until next year.
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had already
been expected to delay new aid tranches on economic grounds,
pointing at corruption and slow bank reforms, but are now
forced to link a suspension to East Timor. Restarting aid
to a new government may prove more difficult now that this
link is made explicit.
early sanctions may be held back by Indonesia's concession
to let in foreign peacekeepers, the long-term damage to Indonesia
is potentially serious. Aid to Indonesia will seen as politically
incorrect, no matter how far Gen Wiranto gives in now, and
foreign companies will feel coy about announcing new investments
there for months to come.
fledgling democracy has been singed, like the charred ruins
of Dilli. The military has sidelined the civilian president,
parliament has had little or no say in handling the crisis
and the press is blocked from entering East Timor. By arousing
nationalist sentiment, the military is trying to silence any
by Mr Habibie's aides to placate restless regions with a larger
share of revenues and more say in government have been thwarted
by a military crackdown on separatism, not just in East Timor
but also in Aceh and Irian Jaya. This violence has so far
been counter-productive, pushing the Acehnese in particular
into a harder line against Jakarta.
analysts, nevertheless, see one positive consequence of last
week's shift in the balance of power: the military may be
doing Indonesia a favour by blocking Mr Habibie's re-election,
which would certainly spark social unrest.
is about the only favour the Indonesian military have done
for Indonesia. For the rest, it has done its country a great
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