In early January 2017 Javanese born Indonesian Armed Forces Chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo accused the Australian military of posting anti-Indonesian (pro-Wester Papuan independence) material that offends Indonesia.
General Nurmantyo may continue to resent the expulsion of Indonesian forces in East Timor by Australian forces during East Timor's 1999 independence vote. "Back in March 2015, when [the Indonesian Army's] Chief of Staff, General Nurmantyo said efforts for East Timor to secede from Indonesia were a proxy war on the part of Australia to secure the oil field in Timor Gap."
Nurmantyo may now believe, or at least politically maintain, that Australia has designs on acquiring Indonesia's tense but resource rich province of West Papua. Like many in the Indonesian military General Nurmantyo appears impatient with civilian democracy (Indonesia, East Timorese and West Papuan).
This Indonesian military impatience is in the context of the military having a dual "Dwifungsi" military-political role in Indonesia. This partly stems from Javanese patriots being seen as the revolutionary saviours who ousted the Dutch colonial masters from Indonesia in 1949 (in Indonesia's "National Revolution" or "War of Independence"). Many would add that the military is also a powerful economic force as well through running commercial enterprises and quietly taxing civilian businesses and officials.
The natural order of things in Indonesia are that Javanese generals are born to rule. Java is Indonesia's main island in terms of population and heritage. Indonesia's capital Jakarta is on Java. Javanese consider all Indonesia 1,000s of other islands to be "outer islands".
Indonesia's key leaders all share a Javanese and military heritage, including:
- Javanese born independence leader Sukarno (who was widely referred to as "General" and wore a general's uniform). He successfully led the independence struggle against the Dutch (1945-1949). He then became the first and founding President of Indonesia, ruling from 1945 to 1967. Sukarno made himself Dictator "President for Life" imposing a system of "Guided Democracy"
- Javanese born Gerneral Suharto was the second President of Indonesia (rising to power by coup) becoming Indonesia's Dictator between 1967 to 1998.
- the daughter of Sukarno, Megawati Sukarnoputri, became President from 2001 to 2004.
- Javanese General (retired) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono "SBY" became the popularly elected President between 2004 to 2014.
- Javanese General (retired) Prabowo Subianto was (unofficially) the military's candidate for President in Indonesia's 2014 Presidential Elections. Subianto is considered by many to be unscrupulous. He was beaten by a "mere" ordinary civilian, Joko ("Jokowi") Widodo (former Governor of Jakarta) who was not from Indonesia's military supported ruling class. Subianto might exploit disorder through using the military to "restore order".
1. Is General Nurmantyo's comments symptomatic of a military versus civilian power struggle in Indonesia. - With Widodo being seen as an upstart President with insufficient legitimacy.
2. Is General (retired) Subianto, having failed to become President in 2014, pulling the strings now in league with General Nurmantyo?
3. Is civilian authority in Indonesia too weak to rein General Nurmantyo in? General Nurmantyo appears to have voiced positions against Australia and even China - positions not shared by the Indonesian Defence Minister and President.
4. Has the tilt or return to the right in the US (Trump) and in Indonesia's neighbour the Philippines (Duterte - see my September 15, 2016 article) spread to Indonesia?
5. To what extent is General Nurmantyo (and Subianto) manipulating Indonesia politics through playing the race and religion cards? General Nurmantyo has alternated between Islamic supremacist positions and voicing Islam-Christian-Buddhist tolerance over the last few months. He was involved in the Jakarta November 2016 protests against the alleged blasphemy of the ethnic Chinese Governor of Jakarta against Islam (see second paragraph here). The Chief of the Indonesian Police is also making political statements with the police being a rival power center to the military.
6. To what extent is Indonesia's highly politicised Special Forces force Kopassus (the main complainent against Australia's West Papua material) being used by General Nurmantyo to stir up trouble?
7. Might Australia ultimately prefer the steady hand of Indonesian military rule. This is compared to delicate Indonesian democracy carrying the risk of fragmentation - vulnerable to mainland Chinese influence or Islamist insurgent-terrorism?