While no longer in command or leading troops, former military top brass is still seen as very influential in the April presidential election.
The two presidential tickets running in the 2019 election are competing for support from former military generals, with each camp claiming it has stronger backing than the other.
The recent decision of former general Muchdi Purwoprandjono – who is also a former commander of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) – to declare his support for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has added to the long list of former military generals taking part in the incumbent’s coalition.
Three former Indonesian Military (TNI) chiefs – Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Minister Wiranto and former vice president Try Sutrisno – as well as Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who was Kopassus’ antiterrorist unit chief, and former Navy chief of staff Marsetio are among the retired generals who have become Jokowi loyalists.
On Feb. 10, Jokowi and his running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, officially received support from around 1,000 retired military officers, many of whom are generals. The support came just days after the President agreed to provide more civilian posts to active military personnel at government institutions.
The camp of challenger Prabowo Subianto, who is also a former military elite, has claimed that it has more former generals supporting the Gerindra Party chairman. Prominent retired generals backing him include former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former TNI chief Djoko Santoso, former Navy chief Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno. However, Yudhoyono, who currently leads the Democratic Party, has decided to leave the election campaign to care for his ailing wife.
Prabowo, a former commander of Kopassus, is also backed by several retired members of the elite unit, including Lt. Gen. (ret) Yunus Yosfiah, a former Kopassus captain during Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of then-East Timor, and Lt. Gen. (ret) Yayat Sudrajat, the former chief of the military’s Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS).
While Jokowi’s campaign team has claimed that dozens of former generals have thrown their support behind the President’s reelection bid, Prabowo’s team claims it has gotten hundreds.
Gerindra deputy chairman and Prabowo’s stalwart Fadli Zon has proudly claimed that hundreds of retired military generals supported Prabowo.
“Hundreds of good generals have joined us [to support Prabowo]. We have many [retired generals] who are experts in intelligence,” Fadli said.
Observers say the race is largely influenced by the prominent positions the retired officers currently hold. Years of assignments in various military bases across the country has enabled them to build connections with individuals and local politicians in the regional and grassroots levels, which can be helpful in gathering and securing votes.
Their expertise in intelligence also makes it easier for them to gather information that may be used by the campaigns to formulate political strategies.
“I can use and influence my network [to get people to vote for Jokowi], but I don’t want to join his campaign team,” Muchdi said.
Military expert Khairul Fahmi from the Institute of Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS) said the support from former TNI generals had led to a division in the military institution.
“It’s kind of a division among the former military elite but not a split. I assume that they have a certain agenda. They want to make sure that whoever wins and becomes president, the government will not harm the interests of the military institution,” Khairul said.
He added that retired generals still had a connection with active personnel and therefore could pass the agenda proposed by the TNI.
“So, both of the presidential candidates should be careful in responding to the military support to avoid the possibility of reviving militarism in the country,” Khairul said.
During Soeharto’s New Order era, the military possessed dwifungsi (dual role), which enabled military officers to be involved in all aspects of civilian life.