From email@example.com Fri May 29 17:33:02 1998
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 15:29:50 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: [INDONESIA-L] FEER - Wiranto Faces Down One Threat, Others Loom
Military chief faces down one threat but others loom
By John McBeth in Jakarta
June 4, 1998
O ne of the first casualties of the post-Suharto era was the former
president's ambitious son-in-law, Lt.-Gen. Prabowo Subianto.
Outflanked by his boss, armed-forces chief Gen. Wiranto, Prabowo was
removed from his command of Indonesia's main combat force and assigned
to head a staff college in Bandung.
By all accounts, he took his demotion badly--at one point strapping on
a sidearm, summoning several truckloads of troops and confronting
guards at the presidential palace as he tried to win an audience with
new President B.J. Habibie. He left empty-handed--but the incident may
nevertheless have been the closest Indonesia came to its nightmare
scenario: confrontation between military units with competing
It was a far from graceful comedown for the fiery 47-year-old, who
partly on the strength of his Suharto connections had risen rapidly to
become the army's youngest three-star general. At the same time, it
was a victory for Wiranto, an astute political player who doubles as
He will need it: Complex challenges lie ahead for the armed forces,
including the impact of political reform on dwifungsi, the concept
that enshrines the military's role in political life. Another test may
involve religious tolerance: Despite his success in heading off a
dangerous rift, Wiranto was later forced into a damaging flip-flop in
naming Prabowo's successor. His first choice, a Christian, was dropped
amid signs that his selection had offended Muslim sensitivities.
Ever since he became armed-forces chief in late February, Wiranto had
sought to check the disrupting influence of Prabowo, who is known as
much for his temper as for his soldiering skills. It was no easy task,
given Prabowo's backdoor access to the palace and the way Suharto
liked to play one officer against another to preserve his hold over
In the last hours of Suharto's presidency, however, Wiranto is
believed to have won the ageing leader's approval to remove Prabowo as
head of the Army Strategic Reserve, or Kostrad. Also sacked was
Maj.-Gen. Muchdi Purwopranjono, who had stepped into Prabowo's old job
as commander of the 6,500-strong Special Forces Regiment, Kopassus,
when Prabowo was promoted to Kostrad two months ago.
Prabowo appears to have learned what was afoot late on May 20, the
night before Suharto resigned. In a foretaste of the palace incident,
he, Muchdi and a strong security escort turned up at the home of Army
Chief of Staff Gen. Subagio to enquire about a meeting Subagio had had
with Suharto earlier that evening. "It was like a raid," says a
prominent official who learned of the incident from a witness.
"Subagio had guests and they were really frightened." The official
says the younger generals left after talking to Subagio.
Prabowo was formally relieved of his post the following morning. He
then appealed directly to Suharto, who a short time earlier had read
his resignation speech. According to insiders, Suharto admonished
Prabowo for making trouble. Eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana
and other family members are said to have joined in the criticism.
(Prabowo is married to Suharto's second daughter, Siti Hedijanti
Herijadi.) Rebuffed, Prabowo later handed over his command directly to
However, this didn't stop him making repeated efforts to see President
Habibie. The sources say Prabowo went later in the day to Habibie's
house in the suburb of Kuningan and asked him to reverse the transfer
order and reshuffle the military leadership.
Prabowo clearly didn't get what he wanted. On the afternoon of May 22,
he showed up at the presidential palace in full battle gear, armed
with an automatic pistol and accompanied by "truckloads" of special
forces troops, according to sources who were inside the palace. A
tense verbal confrontation ensued with members of the Presidential
Security Squad as Prabowo demanded to see Habibie. According to the
source, Prabowo agreed to hand over his pistol in return for admission
to the building. But he was later persuaded to leave--without seeing
the president--by Maj.-Gen. Sintong Panjaitan, one of Habibie's
The incident triggered an alert throughout the city. Kostrad troops
hastily re-erected barbed-wire barricades at the approaches to the
palace complex and armoured columns were redeployed in some areas.
Habibie himself moved to the state guest house adjoining his
presidential office, where he remained overnight, but there were no
During the weekend of May 23-24, Wiranto visited Prabowo at his home
in Jalan Cendana, a stone's throw from Suharto's residence. What was
said is not known, but family friends insist that Prabowo intends
taking up his Bandung post. They also say he has denied involvement in
the May 12 shooting of six students at Trisakti University and the
kidnapping of pro-democracy activists--two cases in which the special
forces have been mentioned as possible culprits. Prabowo couldn't be
reached for comment.
For Wiranto, however, the headaches weren't over. He initially
appointed Maj.-Gen. Johny Lumintang, the highly regarded assistant for
operations, to replace Prabowo. But only 18 hours later, Wiranto
reversed himself, moving West Java regional commander Maj.-Gen.
Djamari Chaniago into the position instead. Military spokesmen later
portrayed Lumintang as merely a caretaker, but it appears Wiranto came
under political pressure over the fact that Lumintang is a
Christian--one of only a few among top officers.
Wiranto apparently didn't want to fight that battle at this stage,
despite his reputation for basing promotions solely on merit. Still,
the decision could come with a cost. "Every Christian in the armed
forces is going to see this as a personal affront," says a military
One of Wiranto's immediate tasks is also to sort out where the
military stands on political reforms. Initially, the generals said
changes should be "constitutional, conceptual and gradual." But that's
hardly likely to satisfy civilian leaders now. Most are impatient for
the introduction of new laws governing elections and political parties
as a prelude to early parliamentary and possibly presidential polls.
By taking a backseat role in Suharto's demise, the armed forces appear
to have lost the initiative to proponents of a civil society, who see
little room for military representation in the new parliamentary
order. "I hope the military understands it will have to let go
dwifungsi or otherwise reformation will be meaningless," says Mochtar
Pabottingi, the architect of a political-reform blueprint now being
studied by the House of Representatives. "I hope they realize the
legitimacy they had is no longer there."