Obituary: Dissident ‘waste
general’ Kemal Idris

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Ahmad Kemal Idris, former chief of the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), succumbed to a lung infection at the  Abdi Waluyo Hospital here early Wednesday.  He was 87.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also a retired Army general, paid his last respects at Kemal’s home in Pondok Indah, South  Jakarta. He was buried in Ciawi, Bogor.

Born on  Feb. 10, 1923 in Singaraja, Bali, Kemal was a signatory of  the Petisi 50, the petition of  50 critics, including a few other retired military personnel, who protested the New Order’s authoritarian rule in 1980. They were isolated, with a few spending time in jail. Kemal however managed to set up a waste management business. “They call me the waste general,” he said in his 1996 biography.  

He shared the rare experience of a former general having to deal with red tape and extortion, and even shared an experience with then president Soeharto in 1993.  

“Pak Harto, many officials give projects to their friends and children,” Kemal says. “Yes, that must be fixed,”  Soeharto answers.

Kemal chaired the National Front of leading critics shortly after Soeharto’s rule ended in 1998.

He “never stopped fighting to improve his country,” said Maqdir Ismail, another Petisi 50 signatory, vivanews.com reported.

The former Soeharto subordinate is credited for his role in the start of the latter’s rule, with the  transfer of power from first president Sukarno.

As Soeharto’s deputy at the Kostrad, he was entrusted in 1965 to lead all troops in Jakarta in the aftermath of the aborted coup.

Kemal says in his biography that on the night Sukarno left the State Palace, surrounded by troops, by helicopter to the Bogor Palace, he personally read the much debated Supersemar (Order of March 11), “which gave authority to Pak Harto to secure the condition. After the assignment the authority was to be returned to Bung Karno as president of the Republic of Indonesia.”   Many have questioned the authenticity of  Sukarno’s letter.

Having joined the army’s  Siliwangi Division during the  independence struggle of the 1940s, Kemal rose to fame in 1952 after he and other officers ordered tanks to surround the State Palace. The “Oct. 17 Affair” marked the Army’s disillusionment with the civilian government.

He once told this newspaper he was “put in a cold freezer” after that, but was reminded by his wife against “kiss[ing] Sukarno’s ass”.

He waited 13 years before a significant promotion to Kostrad chief. Kemal was also chief of the eastern military command and  Indonesia’s first ambassador to Yugoslavia.

However he rejected other posts typically offered to retired generals such as a seat in the legislature.
He is survived by his wife Herwinur B. Singgih and their two children.

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