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Military helps shape elections JAKARTA - Indonesian generals, on the defensive since the ouster of the dictatorship they supported for 32 years, are becoming kingmakers again as the campaign for presidential and parliamentary elections heats up. And despite the danger that Indonesia's young democracy is being undercut by its inability to rein in the military, candidates and political parties are courting the brass for endorsements.
"The military is definitely back in a big way," said Dede Oetomo, a professor at Airlangga University in Surabaya. Top commanders stress their troops will stay out of the fray. "The Indonesian military will remain neutral and not side or give support to any political party or to any presidential candidate, even if they have a military background or are retired military officers," commander-in-chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto promised.
Still, analysts say that it's almost inconceivable that the generals will not maneuver behind the scenes to prop up President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who helped them regain a political role and is running for re-election in July. The military, long known for human rights abuses, has found a new path to legitimacy and influence via the war on terrorism.
The U.S. administration, and particularly Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Jakarta, see the armed forces as a bulwark against Muslim radicalism in Southeast Asia. "The two entities most responsible for reinvigorating military influence in Indonesian society since the fall of (former dictator Suharto) are Megawati and the U.S. government," said Jeffrey Winters, a professor and Indonesia specialist at Northwestern University.
Wolfowitz and other administration officials have pressed for lifting a congressional ban on military ties. These were broken off by the Clinton administration after a bloody rampage by troops in East Timor in 1999. "The generals quickly figured out that since 9/11 the United States is willing to be more forgiving of human rights abuses in exchange for the kind of security they can deliver," Winters said.
During his bloody dictatorship, brought down in 1998 amid pro-democracy protests, Suharto -- himself a five-star general -- used the armed forces to brutally repress any opposition. In exchange, the army got to meddle in the workings of government, and loyal officers were appointed to key government posts and the rubber-stamp legislature. All that changed under Suharto's immediate successors, B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid.
They publicly blamed the military for instigating human rights abuses in East Timor, Aceh and West Papua. Wahid ordered the army out of politics, and accused pro-Suharto generals of sparking religious conflicts to destabilize his reforms and undermine civilian rule. So in 2001, the army backed Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri in her successful bid to replace him.
Aware that all four of her predecessors -- including her own father, founding President Sukarno -- were deposed after losing the generals' support, Megawati quickly reversed Wahid's attempts to reform the armed forces. She then gave the generals free rein to crack down on separatists in the northwestern province of Aceh. About 1,500 people have died since May, when the military ended a six-month cease-fire.
"The conflict in Aceh is basically the problem of politics in Indonesia -- an inability of Indonesia to transform itself into a more democratic, less militaristic state," said Agus Wandi, a researcher with the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign. Although Megawati's ties to the generals earned her sharp rebuke from reformers in her own party, she is likely to again join forces with them in her re-election bid.
But analysts note that tactics such as intimidating voters or using intelligence information to discredit her opponents could easily backfire by alienating voters. Nonetheless, other parties are also vying for the generals' support, even fielding retired military officers as candidates in the presidential race and the April parliamentary elections in April. The most prominent is Gen. Wiranto, a former commander indicted by U.N. prosecutors for war crimes in East Timor. He is seeking the nomination of Suharto's former Golkar Party.
"Even parties that count themselves as progressive now feel they cannot do without retired generals and admirals as their candidates," Oetomo said.

Posted in Elections @ 23 January 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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