Sat, 05 Feb 2000

Observers ponder Wiranto's next move

By Emmy Fitri

JAKARTA (JP): Although he is facing imminent retirement, cabinet suspension and censure for alleged human rights abuse, no one doubts that Gen. Wiranto will fight back.

The question is what kind of counterattack the four-star general will launch.

On the surface, Wiranto projects a calm, Javanese demure, belying talk that he would resort to such a radical move as a coup.

This same reserved and aloof nature also leads some to disregard the talk of a military takeover.

"Wiranto is a true Javanese who reserves his emotions. Don't expect him to show his feelings in public," observer Kastorius Sinaga told The Jakarta Post.

His friends portray a composed Wiranto as a modest and low profile military man, but cynics say he only possesses the "mentality of an adjutant."

Kastorius described him as "not a kind of person who dares to take radical actions."

His exploits in the past few years suggest that underneath the staid exterior is a man with savvy political skills who is no stranger to the power play.

He has survived the political whirlwinds which swept the country in the last three years with his power relatively intact. Two presidents have fallen by the wayside, and his widely- regarded political parry, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto, has been banished from formal politics.

Wiranto was first noticed when he served as ex-president Soeharto's adjutant from 1989 to 1993. This was his ticket to the top military echelon.

From there his influence grew. Well-known for his fatherly leadership, Wiranto was reportedly popular among his soldiers.

In 1993 he was appointed minister of defense/armed forces commander.

He also became popular with reform minded advocates in the mid-1990s when he introduced the possibility of military reform.

The contradictions are inescapable. While many now regard him as a wanted man for his alleged responsibility for the violence in East Timor, people forget that in the weeks leading up to Soeharto's fall, Wiranto was the hope of many in helping topple what seemed at the time as Soeharto's impenetrable hegemony.

Even so, minutes after Soeharto's statement, Wiranto stepped up before a nationally televised audience and pledged to faithfully carry out his duty to protect the new president and former president.

Many see this as a sign of his continued closeness with Soeharto. There is further speculation that the combination of Soeharto's money and Wiranto loyalists in the TNI only heightens the prospect of a radical political move.

Wiranto has the means and, given that he has been put in a corner, he now has the motive.

Top military brass have brushed off suggestions of a possible takeover, saying that TNI as an institution it is loyal to the government.

It is debatable whether individuals close to Wiranto and dissatisfied with the public bludgeoning of the military's reputation are strong enough to take significant action on its own.

J. Kristiadi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that Wiranto must realize that his options are limited.

"If he thinks that he will be supported by the whole element in TNI, then he is too confident," he told the Post.

"If he wants to, he can fight at the trial," he said referring to the tribunal for East Timor human rights violations.

He pointed out that Wiranto had fallen out of favor with the military elite, particularly Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar and Lt. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for recommending them to the cabinet which effectively ended their military careers.

Kristiadi also said that Wiranto was unlikely to use his non- military links with various Muslim groups as they were too weak to compete with the likes of the 30-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama which ardently backs the President.

Kristiadi was adamant that Wiranto is on the decline, that he is history.

Kastorius believes that expecting the military to support Wiranto was too much.

"The military is not a political party whose leaders have cult status and die-hard followers," he said.

Wiranto's final trump card is his cabinet post, and he seems determined to hang on to it to bargain for his safety.

Despite predictions of Wiranto's demise, some are still adamant that Wiranto wields enough power to throw the nation into chaos.

Sociologist Tamrin Amal Tamagola speculated that the recent unrest in various parts of the country was the work of an invisible hand connected with major political events. He pointed out that violence erupted in Ambon, Ternate and North Halmahera only a day after Wiranto was summoned by KPP HAM for questioning.

Tamrin also claimed there was conjuncture between bloody unrest in the country in the past four years and Wiranto's own exploits.

With or without a direct order from Wiranto, the men behind him would work to spread unrest, he warned.