Tue, 14 May 2002

Gen. Endriartono looks set to become TNI commander

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lengthy speculation over the military reshuffle was put to rest on Monday when the House of Representatives received President Megawati Soekarnoputri's nomination of current Army chief of staff Gen. Endriartono Sutarto as the new Indonesian Military (TNI) commander, replacing Admiral Widodo Adi Soetjipto.

Endriartono's nomination was confirmed in a letter the President sent to the House on May 10.

According to the President's letter, which was read out during the House of Representatives' plenary session here on Monday by Soebianto, from the House secretariat, Endriartono was considered capable and competent to lead TNI.

Speculation over Widodo's successor was high when the TNI, especially the Army, opposed Megawati's plan to replace Widodo two months ago, saying Widodo was still acceptable.

It reached a peak when Army generals appeared divided over the issue and, later, reportedly returned to the unwritten rotation under which the Air Force would have had its turn for the no. 1 position. Other generals competing with Endriartono for the position were former Army chiefs Gen. Tyasno Sudarto and Gen. Djadja Suparman, who have no portfolio position at the Army Headquarters.

The President finally decided on Endriartono, who was expected to gain approval from the House.

However, Endriartono's nomination has caused some controversy, as he has already reached the mandatory retirement age of 55 and because of a recent upsurge in criticism of the military.

The House is unlikely to ask too many questions about Endriartono's age though, since the President, in her capacity as supreme commander of TNI, has the prerogative to postpone his retirement age as long as she wants him to occupy the job, as she did with Widodo.

According to the Constitution, the president also has the prerogative to appoint the TNI chief, but following an MPR decree in 2000 on the role of the TNI and of the National Police, the appointment requires the House's approval.

"The main issue has become: Is he politically fit for the job?" said Aberson Marle Sihaloho, an outspoken legislator of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan).

He predicted it was impossible for the House to turn down Endriartono's nomination, as was the case with the nomination of Gen. Da'i Bachtiar as National Police chief last November.

"The House has no other alternative but to give its approval, because, so far, Endriartono's nomination has gained political support from PDI Perjuangan and the TNI/National Police faction," he said.

A source, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Endriartono's nomination was crucial for the nation and a reflection of the military's dark side.

"It seems difficult to imagine that the President nominated a candidate as TNI commander who was identified with former president Soeharto's military-style regime. There must be something wrong, either with the military or the President," the source said, citing the recent appointment of Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, linked to the Trisakti tragedy and the May 1998 riots, which indicated that the TNI was moving in a more reactionary direction.

Endriartono commanded the presidential guard when former president Soeharto stepped down on May 21, 1998. He joined Widodo and other military officials to enforce the state of emergency declared by former president Abdurrahman Wahid ten months ago.

Chairman of House Commission I on security and foreign affairs Ibrahim Ambong said his commission would assess Endriartono's vision and proposed program.

"We want to do it (the fit-and-proper test) by the end of this month so that, we hope, we will have a new TNI commander early in June," he said.

He implied that, despite its right to object to the nomination, the House was likely to endorse Endriartono, because Megawati has given him her support, and the candidate was expected to win support from both the PDI Perjuangan and TNI factions.

Ambong said the military under Endriartono would inherit a number of major problems that urgently needed to be resolved.

"The police and the military are facing prolonged conflicts and secessionist movements in Aceh, Maluku and Papua (Irian Jaya). The military's commitment to the law and human rights is also being tested in many human rights abuse cases involving numerous senior officers," he said.

Endriartono, born in the Central Java town of Purworejo on April 29, 1947, graduated from the Army Academy in 1971, occupied a strategic position at TNI Headquarters in 1998 and was the Army deputy chief on March 8, 2000, before being appointed to his current job on Oct. 9, 2000.

Endriartono's nomination has caused speculation over two top posts in the Army. He had also taken over the deputy Army chief position after Lt. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri retired on May 1, 2002.

The names of Army's Strategic Reserves (Kostrad) Commander Lt. Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu and Lt. Gen. Djamari Chaniago have risen to the surface as possible replacement for Endriartono.

PDI Perjuangan legislator Tjahyo Kumolo said the Army had only a few three-star generals and of them, Djamari and Ryamizard were the most suitable.

"The two have the same vision as newly appointed Air Force Chief Vice Marshall Chappy Hakim and Navy Chief Vice Admiral Bernard Sondakh, to form a united military with the next TNI commander," he said.