KING IS DEAD:
|INDONESIA IN TRANSITION||JUNE 1, 1998 VOL. 151 NO. 21|
Gen. Wiranto Is the Man to Watch
BY ANTHONY SPAETH
ehind many a strongman stands a general, whose main traits include fierce dedication to his boss and an unfailing tendency toward deference. When the strongman falls, however, it is often that same general, suddenly less humble and loyal, who replaces him.
Former President Suharto had just such a loyal assistant in Gen. Wiranto, 51, head of the armed forces and the country's Defense Minister. For years he was Suharto's adjutant. And sure enough it was Wiranto who came forward to give Suharto the bad news last Wednesday: it was time to step down. Minutes after Suharto resigned the following day, Wiranto went before the cameras and took it upon himself to solemnly announce: "I honorably accept the President's decision to withdraw his position."
Wiranto, analysts generally assume, is the real force behind the throne. The fact that he didn't grab the top job for himself appears to be a credit to Wiranto and his loyalty--and also a signal of the prevalent fear that Indonesia could relive the chaotic transition that occurred when then-Gen. Suharto shrewdly assumed power from former President Sukarno in the mid-1960s. By strenuously supporting an orderly, constitutional succession, the ever-composed Wiranto has put himself in a tricky, if powerful, role. He is the military guardian of a President with little support. If the public doesn't accept Habibie, and if students continue their protests, it will be up to Wiranto to somehow fix things. (Wiranto, insiders say, registered his opposition to Habibie becoming President just days before Suharto resigned.) And in propping up the country's first civilian President in decades, Wiranto may be facilitating the demilitarization of Indonesian politics, in which generals and admirals have long enjoyed a constitutionally enshrined political function. "We are going out of military rule," says Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid, whose 30 million followers make him Indonesia's most influential civilian. "The question is how far."
Wiranto will be critical in answering that question, especially after last week's vanquishment of his top rival, Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, the Suharto son-in-law who was relieved of his powerful post as head of the army's elite Strategic Reserve Command--the same position Suharto occupied before becoming President--and sent to work in the army's training school. Wiranto possesses an impressive combination of brains and brawn. He earned degrees in both law and business administration and serves as honorary chairman of the Indonesian Bridge Association. His hobbies include boxing and Tae-kwondo. He also seems to have given Indonesian democratic development a lot of serious thought. A year ago, he ordered military researchers to study the kind of political reforms the country needed. By last week, he had concluded that, among other things, Indonesia required a directly elected parliament without military appointees and a severing of the ironclad link between the army and the ruling Golkar party. That's a blueprint for an overhaul of Indonesia's governing system. But then, no one recognizes the fragility of the current setup better than the man holding it all together.
Reported by John Colmey/Jakarta
Photograph by John Stanmeyer--Saba for TIME