Fri, 05 Mar 1999

Wiranto says he already passed up chance for power

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Security/Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto revealed on Thursday that former president Soeharto conferred extraordinary powers upon him to quell mounting unrest last year.

"At the time of transfer of power from Soeharto to B.J. Habibie, I already carried a mandate from (Soeharto) who held the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) decree No. V which stated that the president ... could take steps to restore national security," Wiranto said during a discussion on ABRI's role in the forthcoming general election at Hotel Mulia, Central Jakarta.

Responding to questions from participants about an alleged tendency on the part of the military to take advantage of the country's current turbulence, the four-star general refuted speculation that ABRI sought greater power.

Wiranto described last year's transfer of power as "dramatic and tense" and a "true test of loyalty to the nation".

"The mandate was passed on to me. I could have pressed the government (at that time) to impose an 'SOB' (Staat van Oorlog en Beleg or state of war and siege), to declare a state of emergency and take over power ... that would have been the easiest way.

"But the Armed Forces, and I myself as the leader of ABRI, did not pursue (the mandate) because I realized if I did so, there would be enormous bloodshed."

Soeharto bowed to mounting pressure and resigned from his presidency of 32 years on May 21. The event was preceded by large-scale unrest in various cities, including Jakarta, where at least 1,200 people were killed.

Wiranto lashed out at various groups who have accused the military of exploiting volatile political conditions in order to take control of the country.

"Such suspicions are not realistic. We could have taken over before. I myself could have done that. So if people say that ABRI is acting in an authoritarian manner in the current condition, I strongly disagree."

ABRI was loyal to the state, Wiranto said.

"We are loyal to the system, not to individuals. If we were faithful to Soeharto it was because at that time he was a true, legal and constitutional president. The same thing goes for Habibie. Well ... the person (holding the presidency) may change but ABRI loyalty to the constitution is consistent."

Moeslim Abdurrahman, one of the speakers at the session, interpreted Wiranto's statement as a show of willingness on the part of the military to allow civil society to develop.

"They (ABRI) have said they will be neutral, especially during the June poll. Will they be able to keep their word? This election will test them," Moeslim said.

During the discussion, held by the Forum for National Unity, Wiranto reiterated that ABRI was ready to withdraw from politics because civil society was becoming stronger.

"We will eventually leave the political stage ... but it has to be done gradually. Continuous reform within ABRI will create a security and defense force which is professional, effective, efficient and modern," he noted.

"As a logical consequence of the demand for reform within ABRI and regarding its dual function role ... ABRI will no longer be involved in practical politics ..."

ABRI was committed to its neutral stance and would not support any political party in the June 7 election. The military also resolved to allow its members and their families unrestricted voting options, he said.

Minister of Education and Culture Juwono Sudarsono, however, expressed doubts that a civil society could prevail in the current situation.

"The Armed Forces is the only institution with a national, comprehensive network. No civil groups, be they political parties or professional groups, has that.

"Why? We have to admit ... that up to now no institution can match ABRI's continual organized responsibility for the country. Their hierarchy and bureaucratic system enables them to perform such a task," Juwono said.

The most important task is to empower civil society, he said.

"We cannot do that without the military and bureaucracy's role because they are the tools that run the country."

Notable figures attending the session included scholars Mohammad Sobary, Nasikun, J.B. Kristiadi, Mely. G. Tan, and Astrid Susanto, politician Indra Bambang Utoyo, media executives and high-ranking military officers. (edt)