President Jokowi inaugurating General Andika Perkasa as the Indonesian National Armed Forces on 17 November, 2021. (Photo: Joko Widodo/ Twitter)

President Jokowi inaugurating General Andika Perkasa as the Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces on 17 November, 2021. (Photo: Joko Widodo/ Twitter)

Jokowi Playing It Safe by Picking Loyalists to Lead the Indonesian Military

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The latest leadership reshuffle in the TNI reflects President Jokowi’s desire to ensure he has loyalists at the helm, as political jockeying intensifies in Indonesia.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has appointed Gen. Andika Perkasa, the Army chief-of-staff, to lead the Indonesian military (TNI). Jokowi had proposed Andika as the sole candidate for TNI commander and Parliament accepted the president’s nomination without any objections. This has put to rest any hopes that Navy chief-of-staff Admiral Yudo Margono would helm TNI, even though there had been widespread expectations that, by convention, the TNI leadership rotation should turn to the Navy. (The last time the TNI was led by the Navy was between 2010-13.)

At the same time, Jokowi promoted Lt. Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, the current commander of the Army’s Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) to become the new Army chief of staff. There is speculation that Maj. Gen. Maruli Simanjuntak, currently the commander of Kodam XVI/Udayana in Bali, will take over Dudung’s position as the Kostrad commander.

The common characteristic among these newly-appointed generals in key positions is that they are all associated, in one way or another, with Jokowi’s loyalists. Except for Dudung Abdurachman, Andika and Maruli were also former commanders of Jokowi’s presidential guard.

According to observers, Andika’s military career has not been extraordinary. Although he has held many of the positions one would normally go through to become a top military leader, many of them were held only briefly. Between 2013 to 2014, he was promoted from colonel to major general in just 11 months. The accelerated position occurred because he was appointed commander of Jokowi’s presidential guard.  It is widely perceived that he was appointed to the job more because of his political connections instead of his military record. Andika is the son-in-law of retired Gen. AM Hendropriyono, a Jokowi loyalist and also a former intelligence chief during the Megawati presidency.

Andika started his career as a Kopassus officer. One of the highlights of his career was his leadership in 2002 of a Kopassus team to apprehend an Al-Qaeda operative in Indonesia, Omar al-Farouq, who was then handed over to American authorities. The operation was an intelligence operation carried out by the State Intelligence Agency, which was chaired by Hendropriyono himself. But there has also been some controversy surrounding the decision to appoint Andika as TNI commander over his alleged involvement, as a Kopassus officer, in the murder of Theys Hiyo Eluay, the leader of the Papuan Council (Dewan Papua).

Jokowi would also be keen to avoid the situation he faced early in his presidency, when TNI was able to choose its own commander Gen Gatot Nurmantyo who had harboured ambitions to challenge Jokowi for the presidency.

Unlike many other Indonesian military officers, Andika has had significant exposure overseas. He spent eight years studying in the U.S. at three American universities (Norwich University in Vermont, National Defense University and George Washington University, both in Washington DC). He has earned three master’s degrees but does not have a PhD as has been suggested by media in Indonesia.

Like Andika, the new Army chief-of-staff Gen. Dudung Abdurrachman also has links to the elite. His father-in- law, Ret. Major General Cholid Ghozali, is the former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of PP Baitul Muslimin Indonesia, a PDIP umbrella organization to reach Islamic voters. Dudung is known to be close to both Jokowi and PDIP chairwoman, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Gen. Dudung is known for his tough moves against the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) when he was the commander of the Jakarta Military Command. At that time, he had taken the position that the FPI should be disbanded because it always acted against the law. Dudung had ordered his men to take down FPI banners and billboards and openly confronted the FPI. As a show of force, he deployed military vehicles to patrol in front of the FPI headquarters.

Another important position that is closely watched is that of the Kostrad Commander. This position is very strategic because it controls the largest fighting force within the Indonesian Army. Major General Maruli Simanjuntak,  the son-in-law of Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, the minister of investment and maritime affairs in Jokowi’s administration, is very likely to occupy this position. Luhut is often dubbed the ‘super minister’ because of his huge role in shaping and implementing Jokowi’s policies.

Maruli has served as a presidential guard three times, namely as the Commander of Group A which provides the closest protection to the president (2014-16), as deputy commander (2017-18), and finally, as the Commander of the Presidential Guard (2018-20).

Jokowi’s choice of generals reflects his clear priority to strengthen his control over the most politically strategic positions in the Indonesian military. As a civilian president who has no roots in the military, Jokowi has picked generals who are either loyalists or closely associated with those whom he trusts. Jokowi would also be keen to avoid the situation he faced early in his presidency, when TNI was able to choose its own commander Gen Gatot Nurmantyo who had harboured ambitions to challenge Jokowi for the presidency. Now into his second term as presidency, Jokowi has apparently learnt that he needs to actively cultivate the elites and power brokers in Jakarta, and to keep them on his side. Having stuffed his cabinet with some “crazy rich” politicians in Jakarta, Jokowi appears to be increasingly relying on the support of elite families who are loyal to him. This can certainly be read as an effort to ensure that the last three years of his presidency will be stable and without turmoil. However, this consolidation of elites in the president’s camp — from businessmen to political oligarchs — also raises the question: does this reflect preparation to stay in power longer?

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