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More generals may join Indonesia's presidential race
Publication Date : 11-10-2012
Indonesia's presidents have not been former soldiers for only six out of the 45 years since General Suharto took charge in 1967.
Now that a controversial former general is topping the surveys as front runner for the 2014 presidential poll, a number of current and former generals have surfaced as possible challengers.
Feelers are now out to see how acceptable they are.
"There is a popular perception, bordering on myth, that they have better leadership skills and discipline than civilians," political analyst Dr Kuskridho Ambardi tells The Straits Times.
"This is an opportunity parties or aspiring politicians feel they can take advantage of."
Controversial former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto, chief patron of the Gerindra Party, is currently ahead in opinion polls.
But a good number of establishment figures fear that he could be unpredictable, citing his alleged involvement in the riots following Mr Suharto's downfall in 1998.
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto and army chief of staff Pramono Edhie Wibowo have cropped up as potential nominees from the Democrat Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former general.
Though neither is a party member, Djoko, a former air force chief who served as armed forces head from 2006 to 2007, is close to Dr Yudhoyono who, by law, cannot stand again.
General Pramono is the President's brother-in-law.
Endriartono Sutarto, who preceded Djoko as armed forces chief from 2002 to 2006, also made headlines recently when he joined the two-year-old National Democrat (Nasdem) Party.
But Endriartono told reporters he had not thought as far as 2014. "It's too early to say, and it's up to the party," the Rakyat Merdeka daily quoted him saying.
Wiranto, the chief of the armed forces from 1998 to 1999 and head of the Hanura Party, may also make a third bid for the top job.
A number of former generals are also actively involved in the largest parties - Golkar, which is chaired by businessman Aburizal Bakrie, and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Last week, Dr Yudhoyono himself held up former generals' involvement in politics as a factor that had helped the country achieve stability in its transition from authoritarian rule since 1998, even as the military itself withdrew from the scene.
Speaking at the launch of a book on the first batch of graduates - the class of 1970 - from the integrated military academy, he reminded those involved in politics to keep standards high.
Dr Kuskridho from Gadjah Mada University said the popularity of former generals is partly due to the vast networks built up over their careers.
These can become a formidable political machine for raising funds or manpower.
National University of Singapore political science academic Terence Lee said Indonesia's surfeit of military men in politics should not raise eyebrows - former generals in countries like the Philippines and Thailand have always tried to wield influence through civilian parties.
"The armed forces were previously involved in human rights abuses and repression, but Indonesians, particularly those from the younger generation, do not seem to have any historical memory about the abuses," he said.
As opposition to poll leader Prabowo gains ground, several media reports read his not being invited to the book launch as a snub.
Organising committee member Luhut Panjaitan, a retired general active in Golkar, said generals in politics should have a good track record, although he later told reporters Prabowo was not invited as space was limited.
Prabowo too dismissed talk of a snub, but welcomed the increasingly crowded field, saying: "That's why democracy is good: people have many choices."