Subject: SCMP: Indonesia's Ex-Generals Seek Comeback - By Vote [+So Is E. Timor Militia Leader]

also: Militia chief who led E Timor massacres vies to be lawmaker

South China Morning Post

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Indonesia's Ex-Generals Seek Comeback - By Vote

After waiting in the wings, Indonesia's retired military officers are seeking a new kind of power in tomorrow's elections, writes Fabio Scarpello

After the fall of president Suharto in 1998, Indonesia's powerful military found itself sidelined by enthusiasm for the nation's nascent democracy.

But more than a decade later, many former military officers are again vying for roles in the Indonesian power game - this time via the ballot box.

Hundreds of former officers have shed their uniforms for political colours and will be seeking election in tomorrow's nationwide polls, raising concerns about their motives and goals.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar of the Centre for Political and Regional Studies said people should be alert, but not alarmed. "Previously, the TNI's [military] political involvement was institutionalised, but now it is on an individual basis. It is quite different," she said.

Retired officers brought with them a professionalism often lacking among civilian politicians, but they also brought a mindset that might lead to impatience with the democratic process, she said. "If too many of them are elected to parliament, there is a risk that this mindset could influence the overall political culture."

Bantarto Bantoro, director of the Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said former officers had every right to take part in the election, but they must demonstrate they had left their militarist outlook behind. "They have to show commitment to the reform agenda, which includes reform of the TNI."

He also called for monitoring anyone who might try to exploit the presence of former officers in parliament. "There are many people who seek support from these ex-military figures, possibly including the current military leadership."

TNI chief General Djoko Santoso recently raised eyebrows for a politically laden comment made to the Kompas newspaper, where he warned that the elections would be fraught with threats that could "disturb national stability". Among these threats, he indicated the presence of too many political parties, a long campaign period and too many candidates.

His comments were interpreted as a sign of the difficulties by the TNI to disengage fully from the political process.

Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono has, however, said that the military is committed to helping establish good governance based on democratic principles.

"It means the military's role must be decreased, while civilians must be given broader ones through non-governmental organisations, political parties, local governments and police departments," he said.

Tapol, a UK-based organisation that monitors human rights in Indonesia, says the influx of retired officers in the election is the third wave of military involvement in politics.

Their political aspirations later re-emerged with the Golkar party, established to counter the growing influence of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party.

Golkar became the political machine of Suharto after he seized power in October 1965.

"For more than three decades, Suharto then presided over a military dictatorship whose key doctrine was dwifungsi, or dual function, which granted the military the right to play a role in politics. Soldiers were not allowed to vote, but generals were allotted up to 100 seats in the national and regional parliaments," Tapol writes.

Among the main parties, former officers have a secondary role in Golkar and in former president Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, but they maintain a stronger presence in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. This party is chaired by retired colonel Hadi Utomo and sees retired major general Nur Aman and retired police commissioner general Nurfaizi sitting on the board.

Former officers are also present in the Islamic parties, especially in the Star Crescent Party, which has three on its board.

Some generals, such as Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto, have established their own parties as a platform for presidential ambitions.


South China Morning Post Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Militia chief who led E Timor massacres vies to be lawmaker

The former leader of a pro-Jakarta civilian militia in East Timor has rejected claims he still has links to Indonesia's military as he seeks election to "serve the people".

Eurico Guterres, a Catholic living in Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara, the province that includes West Timor, is vying for a seat in the national parliament under the banner of the National Mandate Party (PAN), a moderate Muslim party.

He was head of the Aitarak militia during East Timor's vote for independence in 1999. On April 17 that year, he went on national television to incite thousands of militiamen to kill pro-independence supporters, and was a key figure in massacres in which more than 200 people were killed.

"I want to fight for the aspirations of people in East Nusa Tenggara. This province is one of the poorest and least successful in the country, and I want to help change that," he said of his bid for politics. "Improving education and health care are my priorities."

He said he had accepted PAN's request to join it because it was a "nationalistic party". He claimed that he had funded his campaign by taking a loan against his house.

Throughout 1999, he engaged in many acts of violence, while staying in touch with top Indonesian military officials. He was very close to the army's Kopassus chief, Prabowo Subianto, who was accused of running "terror squads" in East Timor and is now a presidential hopeful leading the Gerindra party. Fabio Scarpello

Back to April Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu