President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono installed his brother-in-law Lt. Gen Pramono Edhie Wibowo as Army Chief of Staff on Thursday amid speculation that Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party will nominate Pramono for president in 2014.
“I will focus on developing the Indonesian Army professionally. Please support me,” Pramono told reporters when asked if he would run.
Pramono said that among his priorities as Army chief would be to improve the capability of soldiers and upgrade the service’s primary weaponry defense systems.
Yudhoyono installed Pramono to replace outgoing Army chief Gen. George Toisutta, who retired on Thursday. Pramono was previously chief of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), a position he assumed in September.
Pramono said nepotism was not behind his appointment. “I have been the younger brother of Ibu Ani since I was born. I was her brother before she married Yudhoyono. After their marriage, I was still the brother of Ani. That’s the problem,” he said, referring to First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, also regarded as a potential Democratic Party presidential candidate.
Pramono said he would let his superior, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Agus Suhartono, and George, his predecessor, judge whether or not he deserved his appointment.
Several members of the First family attended the ceremony installing Pramono, including his mother, Sunarti Sarwo Edhie Wibowo; Yudhoyono’s son Agus Harimurti and his wife, Annisa Pohan; and his other son, Eddhie Baskoro, a Democratic Party legislator.
Also at the Palace were several top officials, including Speaker of the House of Representatives and senior Democratic Party politician Marzuki Alie and Speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly Taufik Kiemas, also chief patron of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Pramono was previously an aide to former president and current PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soe-karnoputri.
Observers have speculated that the PDI-P and the Democratic Party would back Pramono in 2014, given that Yudhoyono was constitutionally barred from a third term, while others said that Megawati lacked the popularity needed to lure younger voters.
Marzuki said Pramono’s appointment showed that the process of recruiting a new Army chief had been “well run”.
George echoed Marzuki’s comments, saying that Pramono was now the Army’s best soldier. Critics, however, said the appointment was based solely on politics.
A representative from human rights watchdog Imparsial said Pramono’s appointment was made to boost Yudhoyono’s waning influence. “Such nepotism will only serve to reinforce the President’s power, considering that lately his leadership has been deteriorating,” Imparsial program director Al Araf told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
“The installment shows that the President needs loyal people to control the Army ... It is also a way to minimize groups in the Army that are dissatisfied with the President,” Al Araf added.
Imparsial also questioned Pramono’s “poor” track record on human rights. “He may have been involved in Timor Leste when the military violated human rights,” Al Araf said.
Pramono commanded an Army Special Forces (Kopassus) team that was deployed to Timor Leste in 1999 in the run up to a referendum on independence when more than 1,000 civilians were killed.