Tue, 01 Aug 2000

The Army reshuffle

As could have been expected, the replacement on Monday of Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah, the chief of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), has opened up a trail of questions that are begging to be answered.

Kostrad, after all, is considered to be the Army's preeminent combat force as well as a power base and stepping stone toward more lofty positions within the Indonesian Military (TNI).

Gen. Wirahadikusumah, who was appointed in March at the suggestion of President Abdurrahman Wahid, has thus held the position for just about four months.

The basic question, of course, is why was Gen. Agus replaced?

The official answer to the question was given to reporters on Monday by TNI spokesman Air Rear Marshall Graito Usodo. The main reason, Graito said, was that "our organization needs changes and these have been adjusted to the present conditions and situation."

But although "organizational needs" were certainly part of the motive, not much can be learned from such a standard official answer unless one reads between the lines and finds the real reason or reasons underlying the move.

A little more light was shed on the matter by the comment made by Gen. Agus himself. Answering reporters at a news conference, the general said his decision to order an audit of a foundation owned by Kostrad on suspicions of graft could have been among the reasons for his replacement.

More likely to be the main reason, however, is that the move was a political decision taken by President Abdurrahman Wahid, who as the head of state and head of government is also the Supreme Commander of TNI.

As may be recalled, Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah was chief of the Wirabuana Military Command in Ujungpandang (Makassar), South Sulawesi, before he was called to Jakarta at the suggestion of the President because of the general's reformist ideas.

Among high-ranking military officers, for example, Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah was among the very few, if not the only one, to openly support the idea of abolishing the sociopolitical role of TNI and turning it into a professional military force.

The President, apparently impressed by the general's reformist views, suggested that with such a vision, Agus deserved to be given a post in Jakarta rather than in some far-out region such as Makassar. Thus, Gen. Agus was moved to Jakarta where he quickly rose to the position of Kostrad commander.

By supporting Gen. Agus, however, the President antagonized those generals -- and there are presumably quite a number of them left in TNI -- who are reluctant to give up the privileged position of the Indonesian Military.

The present move to replace Gen. Agus from his powerful position, then, could be seen as an effort on the part of the President to improve his relations with TNI and at the same time end the divisions therein.

For sure, with the upcoming Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) due to start on Aug. 7, there is ample justification for the President to do so. The beleaguered President is at present under heavy criticism from various sides for his handling of the administration, and the possibility cannot be discounted that some of the factions in the upcoming Annual Session will try to make it highly uncomfortable for the President and possibly even try to unseat him.

Patching up his relationship with the military at this point, therefore, makes sense for Abdurrahman. Where that leaves the nation, however, is a question whose answer may not please everyone, particularly those prodemocracy groups in society who have sacrificed much in their fight for democratization and civilian supremacy in this country.

The fact that appointed military representatives are likely to continue to maintain seats in the MPR, the highest law-making body in this country, is an indication that true democracy may take longer to establish than many of us would wish.