Subject: Tempo: SBY vs The TNI: War of Whispers [+Editorial: After the ABS Rumor]

also: Tempo Magazine: Editorial: After the ABS Rumor

Tempo Magazine No. 24/IX February 10-16, 2009


War of Whispers

President SBY raises the issue of police and armed forces personnel who may try and influence subordinates in this year's elections.

IT is not clear when the information turned up at the presidential palace. What is clear is that the message was quite startling. The sender of the message informed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that there were army figures who were trying to influence their subordinates not to vote for a presidential candidate with the initial "S" in the upcoming elections in July. Other information revealed that there were police chiefs who were actively forming campaign teams to help a certain presidential candidate win.

"I'm sure the information is not true. Again, I am sure the information is not true. Journalists, don't forget to write it down," said Yudhoyono at a speech at an Indonesian Military (TNI) Commanders and Police Coordination session at the end of January in the Presidential Palace, Jakarta.

Although the President has acknowledged that he did not believe the so-called news, this rumor keeps developing and the public is busy trying to figure out who was meant by Yudhoyono.

The 2009 General Elections is enlivened by the participation of a number of retired generals. These include Gen. (ret) Wiranto of the People's Conscience Party (Hanura), Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), Lt. Gen. (ret) Sutiyoso of the Indonesia Prosperity Party, and Lt. Gen. (ret) Muhammad Yasin of the Functional Work Struggle Party. Even Yudhoyono's closest contender, Megawati Soekarnoputri, is also backed by a number of former generals.

All those candidates are ex-officers who were influential in their eras. Wiranto was TNI Commander in Chief (1998-1999). Prabowo was former Commander of the Army Special Forces (1995-1998) and was once the Commander of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command. As for Sutiyoso and Yasin, although their military careers did not reach the top circles, both have hordes of faithful supporters.

Many suspect that the rumor-mongering among military circles has to do with the heated contest between Yudhoyono and his colleagues. Something akin to a warm-up session before the election day.

* * *

RUMORS abound that presidential candidates from the ranks of retired generals are making use of their ex-subordinates' loyalty to form political lobbies. There are also stories that retired military officers are actively waging political guerilla wars in military barracks to garner votes from soldiers' families. Of course such stories are difficult to verify, and everybody denies them.

M. Yasin, who is mentioned as having a strong network of supporters among military personnel, was tight-lipped when Tempo met him last week. In the 2004 presidential election, Yasin was one of the central figures in Yudhoyono's campaign team. He was said to be the man behind Yudhoyono's landslide victory within military barracks. "He played a central role in setting up territorial networks to gather SBY voters," said military observer from the University of Indonesia, Andi Widjajanto.

In this year's election, Yasin has left Yudhoyono. Jackson Andre Kumaat, Secretary-General of the Functional Work Struggle Party, admitted that his party accommodates retired generals who are disappointed with the Democrat Party, the party established by Yudhoyono. However, he emphasized that his party does not plan to make use of the military network to win in these elections.

Nonetheless, Jackson also acknowledged that his party once had an informal meeting with military circles to introduce themselves. "TNI's neutrality is absolute, but their families, indeed, have the right to choose," he said.

Similar renouncement came from Ahmad Muzani, Secretary-General of the Great Indonesia Movement. "As far as I know the relationship between Pak Prabowo and active military leaders is not that close anymore," he said. Muzani guarantees that his party does not rely on Prabowo's colleagues in the military in order to win in the elections. "Look, from around 400 legislature candidates, there are only six persons from retired generals," he said.

* * *

PRESIDENTIAL spokesperson Andi Mallarangeng confirmed that the information on military notables who had been engaged in the "Anyone but 'S' for President" or ABS campaign did enter the Palace. But he was not sure when it was reported to the President, by whom, and through which channel.

"There are 3 million text messages that came to the President's 9949 SMS, not to mention thousands of letters that went through PO Box 9949," he told Tempo last week. Andi explained that for the present time anybody can give information to the President. "It can be entrusted to someone who wants to see the President, or it can be sent through mail, fax, text messages, emails, and others," he said. "Of course not all information is credible."

Only after verification and analysis can the information be categorized as accurate or not. The Palace staffs have their own mechanism to check the validity of any information that came through. "And it is this information concerning the ABS campaign that is not considered valid," said Andi, now one of the chairpersons of the Democrat Party.

If it is not considered credible and not worth responding to, why then was the issue raised by the President in a public forum? "It's a kind of a reminder," Andi said. The core of the President's speech was, said Andi, to remind military and police leaders that they should remain neutral.

"The President has a right to give a warning, doesn't he?" Andi said. "It would be wrong if the President says: OK generals, admirals, and marshals, you know who to choose, right?" he said laughing.

Presidential special staffer Heru Lelono reaffirmed that the President fully believed in the TNI's and police's ability to maintain their neutrality. He also made sure that there had never been meetings within the President's inner circles to talk about the issue of military officers who are not neutral in the run-up to the general elections. "If the Palace considered such information was accurate there would have been meetings to discuss it," Heru said. "It's obvious that nothing happened."

Although it is said that "nothing happened," the President's expression has made Indonesian Army leaders busy to make anticipation measures. Tuesday last week, four days after the President's speech, Army Chief of Staff, General Agustadi Sasongko Purnomo gathered around 200 retired generals in the Balai Kartini in Jalan Gatot Subroto, Jakarta.

Present were, among others, former Army Chief of Staff, Gen. (ret) Ryamizard Ryacudu, ex-Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Armed Forces, Gen. (ret) Suaidi Marasabessy, and ex-Deputy Army Chief of Staff (ret) Kiki Syahnakri. The only presidential candidate present was Sutiyoso.

"We re-emphasized that TNI's commitment is clear. We are neutral and not involved in politics for the 2009 General Elections," said Agustadi after the session. "I asked the seniors not to involve their juniors in politics, since they are still bound to duties as the nation's guards," he said.

In line with Agustadi, head of the Association of Retired Army Officers, Lt. Gen. (ret) Soerjadi plainly said, "We asked our colleagues to help our alma mater take care of soldiers' neutrality in the elections."

-- Wahyu Dhyatmika, Iqbal Muhtarom, Kurniasih Budi


Tempo Magazine No. 24/IX February 10-16, 2009


After the ABS Rumor

The President raised the "anyone but S for President" rumor. It would be better to speak clearly about the neutrality of the TNI and police in the coming elections.

PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would have done better not to mention the problematic rumor at a meeting of leaders of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police (Polri) last week. The riddle of the "anyone but S for President" (ABS) thrown out by the State Palace has led to an unproductive debate.

We believe there is enough information on senior TNI officers who keep on spreading the ABS sentiment. Perhaps the President believes that he is "S" as indicated by the follow-up statement to his first one. According to the President, there are senior National Police officers rumored to have established a "campaign team" for one particular presidential candidate. The President said he did not believe the rumor, unfortunately, however, he had referred to it during a rarely-held meeting with his fellow ex-military officers.

If he had wanted to talk about the neutrality of the TNI and the police, he would have appeared more magnanimous if he had declared he would not elicit their support for the Democrat Party or his presidential bid in this year's elections. He could have openly stated that he would not deploy military troops or police units in his own interests, while asking them to adhere to their principle of neutrality. The public would have welcomed such a statement from their President.

The President could have easily dealt with the "ABS" political maneuver by summoning the TNI commander and the police chief. As the supreme commander, he has the authority to act against any TNI or police personnel who are proven to violate their neutrality. In this way, the problem could have been resolved internally, not by spreading rumors in public.

Presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng said that the President's statement was based on Yudhoyono's bad experience in the 2004 elections, when TNI personnel actively ordered their subordinates not to vote for Yudhoyono. The presidential office has now received a similar text message. Clearly, there is no benefit from taking a text message at face value and turning it into a public issue. In fact, the "ABS" controversy seems to have boomeranged on SBY.

The political neutrality of the TNI is very clear. Article 2 of Law No. 34/2004 explicitly states that a professional army is an army that is trained, educated not to be involved in practical politics or in business. According to the constitution, the TNI and Polri (National Police) should be non-partisan.

Since the reform movement began 10 years ago, the TNI has shown that it is well aware that it should not side with any one presidential candidate or political party. To its credit, it has demonstrably been making continuous efforts to improve itself. For example, it has accepted with equanimity that its political rights are limited.

It was, in fact, Yudhoyono himself who raised the TNI's neutrality. It does not sound right that he now fears the very concept he molded. On the other hand, what benefit would be derived from his initial statement, if all he intended was to praise the TNI leadership for its neutrality?

The rumor has caused some disquiet among the rank and file of the military and the police. A number of former TNI leaders gathered to discuss an issue that should never have been raised. We hope that in future the President will think more carefully before making statements, especially if they are only based on a text message he received.

The President would do better to choose his words carefully on the matter of the TNI and the police neutrality, instead of being provoked by a rumor.

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