Will economic crisis plunge
Indonesia into social and political crisis?
March 13, 1998
in this forum:
How likely is a revolution if the economic situation continues to worsen? If things continue to worsen and riots become violent, how important of a role will the military play? Why should the IMF and the international community bail-out his regime? What about the social costs of the crisis for the Indonesian people? Is the U.S. prepared to the end its support for Suharto ? Sam Boikan of Santa Fe, NM, asks: Recently, President Suharto reshuffled the military. As the army is the final arbiter of law and justice in Indonesian society, can this move be interpreted as Suharto taking necessary "precautions" to defuse a potentially volatile situation? And if things continue to worsen and riots become violent, how important of a role will the military play?
Ralph Cossa, Executive Director of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic International Studies, responds:
The army, as the question rightly observes, remains the "final arbiter" and the move by Suharto to name his former adjutant, General Wironto, as armed forces commander and his highly ambitious son-in-law, General Prabowo Subianto as head of the special security forces must be seen as precautionary moves which reflect Suharto's awareness of the seriousness of the problem. Suharto, of course, is betting that their loyalty to him exceeds their loyalty to the nation. This, in my view, is far from a sure bet.
Wironto has pledged to take "stern steps" against anyone or any act which "endangers the country"; a message aimed primarily at food rioters and student protesters. But, "anyone" could include Suharto himself, if the army becomes convinced that he is putting the interests of his family and their corrupt business practices ahead of the interests of the country. A certain amount of nepotism and corruption is acceptable (perhaps even expected) when everyone is prospering but become insupportable if "protecting family interests" is seen as the primary motivation behind resisting needed reforms.
John Hughes, former editor and publisher of the Christian Science Monitor, responds:
The military continues paramount in Indonesia. It has reason to be grateful to President Suharto. A coup by the military against Suharto is always possible, but I think unlikely. More possible is subtle maneuvering in a peculiarly Javanese way that would eventually ease Suharto out.
Edward Masters, former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, responds:
This is a good question and a tough one. It gets to the inner power structure of a very complex society and, having followed developments in Indonesia for more than 30 years, I see no easy answer, but I will offer some comments.
There is no question that the army is the dominant element in the nation and virtually the only one which cuts across the geographic, ethnic and other divisions in the society. As such, as you say, it is the "final arbiter." It is my belief that the army would be most reluctant to move against their commander, President Suharto, or established leadership in general. Many Indonesian officers have been taught this through training in U.S. military schools, although unfortunately that training has now been terminated. Also, moving against established leadership would run counter to their concept of pancasila and their soldiers' oath.
Nonetheless, they are strong patriots. If popular disturbances should threaten the stability or cohesion of the nation, then I would imagine they would act to stabilize the situation -- as they did in l966 -- but would do so to the greatest extent possible within the established system. This, I would think, would be in our boarder interests. It would not be in our interests for Indonesia to degenerate into the type of frequent military coups which were prevalent in Thailand in an earlier era.
I doubt, however, that the recent changes in the military command structure were "precautions" to defuse such a possibility. The outgoing military leaders were loyal to Suharto, as are the newcomers. One and perhaps more of the outgoing leaders are likely to reappear in the new cabinet to be announced within the next few days. These shifts, I believe, are fairly routine and not designed to strengthen Suharto's control. The military leadership was already loyal to him.
There is, however, one interesting development. If some reports about the new cabinet are accurate, the posts of Minister of Defense and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces may be combined under General Wiranto. If this happens, it would give Suharto flexibility to move another officer into one of the top positions in the future. There could be interesting speculation about who this might be.