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This week in Jakarta: Chief concerns

This week in Jakarta: Chief concerns
Published 10 Jul 2015 

President Jokowi this week inaugurated new chiefs for Indonesia's intelligence agency and armed forces. The names chosen for the posts came as no surprise, but both carry some controversy.

Retired Lieutenant-General Sutiyoso, aged 70, was chosen as the new head of Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency (BIN). On his last visit to Australia in 2007, Sutiyoso was outraged when a NSW police officer and a court official entered his hotel room unannounced, asking him to testify in an inquiry into the deaths of the Balibo Five, the Australia-based journalists who were killed during the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975. Sutiyoso is alleged to have been part of the special forces team that attacked Balibo on the day the journalists died, though he denies he was even in East Timor at the time. After being confronted in Sydney, Sutiyoso hurriedly returned to Indonesia without making his scheduled visit to Canberra. 

In Indonesia, Sutiyoso is better known as a former Governor of Jakarta, serving from 1997 to 2007. His two terms spanned a turbulent time in Indonesian politics, including the fall of the Suharto and the transition to power of four consecutive presidents in the reform era. Prior to becoming governor, in his role as Jakarta Military Commander, he was accused of leading a deadly attack on the headquarters of Jokowi's party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Despite the incident that left five PDI-P supporters dead and many more missing, party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri later supported Sutiyoso's reappointment as governor in 2002. Sutiyoso had plans to run for president in 2009, though he never found the support for an official nomination. He also floated the idea of running for vice president alongside Jokowi last year, though that idea also lacked support.

Sutiyoso's stormy relationship with Australia may have some impact on intelligence cooperation, as agreed under the Code of Conduct signed by Indonesia and Australia last year to patch up relations after allegations emerged in 2013 of Australian spying on Indonesia. It may be no coincidence that one of Sutiyoso's first goals as BIN chief is to invest in counter-espionage technology. [fold]

Meanwhile, General Gatot Nurmantyo, aged 55, was named on Wednesday as the new Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI). His appointment is controversial not because of his personal history but because of the history of the armed forces in Indonesia. As the first elected president of the reform era, Abdurrahman Wahid introduced a tradition of rotating the position of commander among the army, navy and air force. This was to prevent the army from gaining disproportionate power as it did under Suharto's New Order. Under this system, the next in line to take the position of TNI commander is Air Marshal Agus Supriatna. Instead, Jokowi nominated Nurmantyo for the post, adding to concerns about the increasing dominance of the army under Jokowi.

Nurmantyo replaces General Moeldoko, who has led TNI's return to an increased role in domestic security and civilian affairs. Observers have warned that this is undoing the work of the reform era that aimed to separate military influence from politics. It also has the potential to heighten rivalries between TNI and the police, which are already tense due to the military taking sides in a spat between the police and the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Unlike Moeldoko, Nurmantyo has pledged to focus on internal TNI matters such as modernising its assets and equipment. Concerns about inter-service rivalries have also been addressed, with Nurmantyo promising support for the Navy as part of Jokowi's plan to make Indonesia a stronger maritime power, and for the Air Force in the wake of last week's crash of a 1960s-era Hercules aircraft.

Photo by Flickr user Amateur Indonesian Photo.

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