The leadership of the Indonesian military is in flux. In the last three months of 2017, then commander General Gatot Nurmantyo executed two reshuffles of senior officers: one on October 27 and the other on December 4. Four days later on December 8, General Nurmantyo handed over command of the military to Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Hadi Tjahjanto.
The December 4 leadership changes were puzzling for at least two reasons. The timing of the reshuffle was sensitive: Nurmantyo issued it shortly before he stepped down as commander-in-chief. The move was therefore seen as creating internal conflict and obstructing Tjahjanto’s path, by placing Nurmantyo’s allies in key positions.
Rapid Demotions Follow Extraordinary Reshuffle
In what was seen as a tit-for-tat move, on December 19, 2017 ACM Tjahjanto demoted 16 recently promoted high-ranking army officers. This unexpected step raised even more questions, of which most concerned Tjahjanto’s replacements for the most influential positions, such as the Kostrad commander — a role that involves leading joint annual exercises and other combined services activities.
Speculation was rife about whether ACM Hadi saw Major General Sudirman as General Nurmantyo’s man and therefore decided not to give him a strategic position in the army.
ACM Hadi’s official statements following the reversal of Nurmantyo’s December 4 reshuffle pointed to career development as the justification for the move, but his subsequent reshuffle on January 4, 2018 might confirm the earlier speculation as to his motivations.
The main highlight of this reshuffle was the appointment of Agus Kriswanto, the former head of the army’s training school (Kodiklat), as the commander of Kostrad. Another was the promotion of Andika Perkasa, an area commander, who replaced Kriswanto as head of Kodiklat. These positions are both stepping stones for an officer to become the politically important army chief of staff (KSAD).
Current KSAD Mulyono will retire in January 2019, which is the year of the presidential election. Kriswanto is unlikely to succeed Mulyono as KSAD, because he too will be retiring in August 2018.
The appointment of Kriswanto as Kostrad commander appears to be a strategic move by ACM Tjahjanto and President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) to buy time before finding the right person or grooming a trusted officer for the KSAD position.
Perkasa likely falls into the latter category: many observers believe he is being groomed for the position of KSAD in the near future.
His career soared under Jokowi due to his personal relationship with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s confidant Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, who (aside from being a retired general) is also a trusted adviser of Jokowi
Perkasa came into prominence after his promotion to commander of the presidential security detail in 2014. His credentials for this position were questionable as he had spent most of his military career studying overseas and thus lacked operational experience.
His recent rotation as the head of Kodiklat means that he has been promoted to the rank lieutenant general, which makes him the most senior officer among his cohort. If Tjahjanto does promote Perkasa to KSAD, this could draw criticism within military circles and raise public concerns.
The path from Kodiklat head to KSAD is not definite, but it is common. Nurmantyo and Mulyono both served in Kodiklat as head and deputy head respectively, before rising to Kostrad commander and finally to KSAD. If Perkasa follows the paths taken by the positions predecessors he will likely replace Kriswanto as Kostrad chief when the latter retires in August 2018 in order to prepare for KSAD.
As Jokowi gears up for a second term, having ‘his man’ as KSAD would help strengthen his grip over the military, allowing him to spend political capital elsewhere.
This article was written by Chaula Anindya, a Research Analyst and Satrio Dwicahyo, a Research Associate with the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. It first appeared on East Asia Forum under a Creative Commons License and is reproduced here with its permission.
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