Indonesia Table of Contents

The considerable policy achievements of the New Order government cannot be overstated. Whether compared with the Old Order or with other large and culturally plural Third World nations, Indonesia's record of political stability and economic growth since 1966 was viewed by its leaders as the empirical justification of the system of government put in place by the military in 1966-67. Despite keterbukaan, there was no retreat from dwifungsi. Suharto and the military elite seemed united in their belief that there would be no turning back from the principle of dual function which ABRI considered a historical necessity. The spectacle of the ethnic disintegration of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was a sobering example of what can happen when authority is lifted in ethnically plural states. Beyond the agreement on dwifungsi, however, the relationship between the president and ABRI became one of the problematic issues of politics in the 1990s. Ultimately, the president depended on ABRI as the bulwark of his authority. In part, the legitimacy of ABRI's role in society was a reflection of the Suharto performance in office. As Suharto seemed to become increasingly distanced institutionally from ABRI and issues of corruption and favoritism brought the regime into disrepute, observers questioned how ABRI would position itself with respect to succession.

ABRI dissatisfaction with the course of events rarely surfaced publicly. The demonstration against Sudharmono's nomination to the vice presidency was an exception. Yet, in the subtle and indirect fashion seemingly inherent in Javanese political culture, signs abounded that some senior ABRI leaders had reservations about a sixth term for Suharto. Steeped in distrust of Islamic politics, ABRI looked askance at Suharto's overtures to the santri, taking particular note of the military's exclusion from the ICMI. Moreover, it was no secret that ABRI leaders were disturbed by what some saw as the unbridled greed of the president's family members and his obvious reluctance to restrain them. The cult of personality, which presidential palace functionaries fostered, also offended ABRI's leaders. ABRI's commitment to its own revolutionary values and the Pancasila seemed, in a sense, to be mocked at the end of Suharto's fifth term. On the other hand, ABRI's command repeatedly assured the leadership of their commitment to constitutional processes. ABRI's focus was on regime continuity rather than provoking a leadership crisis that might resonate negatively in the wider society. If the common wisdom that Suharto's successor had to be a Muslim Javanese general was correct, ABRI wanted to be sure that it controlled the designation.

As a practical matter, ABRI's desire to control the succession scenario meant it had to play a leading role in the selection of the vice presidential candidate for Suharto's sixth term (1993-98). The list of potential nominees started with the ABRI commander General Try Sutrisno, followed by army commander General Edi Sudrajat. Even this careful ABRI selection process would not guarantee succession in 1998. Suharto was likely to have had a different scenario. Seemingly waiting in the wings was Major General Wismoyo Arismunandar, who in July 1992 was advanced to deputy commander of the Army from commander of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), the post Suharto himself held in 1965. Wismoyo, Suharto's brother-in-law, was widely expected to become army chief of staff and even ABRI commander. Also rapidly moving up in the ranks was Lieutenant Colonel Prabowo Subianto, a Suharto son-in-law. Prabowo, who, according to many observers, was a highly capable officer, served as the chief of staff of the Seventeenth Airborne Brigade. By 1998, then, the succession issue was likely to be couched in dynastic terms, and the family's interests would be well protected.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress