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Jakarta Post

Commentary: Change of guard in TNI and President's leadership style

  • Imanuddin Razak

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, December 11, 2017   /   08:17 am
Commentary: Change of guard in TNI and President's leadership style New leader: Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto (left) has officially replaced Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo as the Indonesian Military Commander after a handover ceremony on Saturday at the military headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta. (Antara/Puspa Perwitasari)

The handover of the baton of command in the Indonesian Military (TNI) from Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo to Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto on Saturday was the climax of a political drama in the country over the past few weeks.

In reality, the power transfer cannot be viewed in isolation from the idiosyncratic leadership style of the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the TNI, when assessing and promoting his aides.

The ceremony on Saturday was the result of a long and carefully thought through evaluation of Gatot’s performance after two years and five months at the helm of the TNI. Traditionally and systematically, power transfers in the TNI involve a long-term and thorough career-development system.

Yet, the quick process of the TNI succession — starting from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s nomination of Hadi as the sole candidate on Dec. 4 and the House of Representatives’ approval of Hadi’s candidacy on Dec. 7 until the issuance of presidential decrees on the immediate transfer of the TNI leadership, even though Gatot still had three more months of military service, raised many eyebrows. Speculation was rife that the whole process of the change of guard went beyond normal procedures and considerations.

There is no ruling on when a president can replace a TNI chief, because it is entirely his or her prerogative. However, normally a TNI commander is replaced as his retirement age of 58 years old nears. It is possible, though rare, for a president to extend the tenure of a TNI commander.

It was therefore not exceptional for President Jokowi to order Gatot’s immediate replacement despite the latter not retiring until mid-March next year.

Records reveal that it was not the first time for Jokowi to order the immediate replacement of a state official who had not yet arrived at retirement age. The President dismissed then National Police chief Gen. Sutarman in January 2015, nine months before the latter’s retirement. Jokowi named Sutarman’s deputy, Badroddin Haiti, the new police chief.

The presidential decree on Sutarman’s dismissal, dated Jan. 16, 2015, did not specifically stipulate the reasons behind the change of leadership. But the media and observers had speculated that the early succession in the police corps had a correlation with the unfinished prosecution of the founder of the controversial tabloid Obor Rakyat, Setiyardi Budiono, and its editor, Darmawan Sepriyossa, who had been named suspects in publishing hate speech and defamation against Jokowi.

The President has also replaced several ministers because of their failure to meet his expectations, stipulated in a memorandum of understanding each minister signed before he or she took office.

Perhaps in a similar fashion, Jokowi’s decision to expedite the power transfer in the TNI headquarters might have had something to do with the “failure” of Gatot to live up to the President’s expectations. It should be borne in mind that it was Jokowi who nominated Gatot for the top TNI post in 2015.

Gatot issued a number of controversial statements and policies that reportedly discomfited the President. At the 71st anniversary of the TNI last year, Gatot issued a statement calling for the reinstatement of TNI soldiers’ political rights. He was also present among participants of the Dec. 2, 2016 rally demanding the prosecution of then Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy and later on jumped to the defense of the rally participants against the allegation that the demonstration was aimed at toppling President Jokowi.

Gatot was in disagreement with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu over the TNI budget management in February this year. He also controversially organized screenings of the Sept. 30, 1965 movie, a move that was personally opposed by Jokowi himself, who wanted to see the movie remade, to accommodate fairer accounts of the parties affected by the 1965 tragedy.

The last controversy Gatot stirred up was in October when he revealed unauthorized arms imports by non-military institutions. Later on it was revealed that the weapons were for use by the State Intelligence Agency and the National Police.

The political dynamics sped up after the President, through State Secretary Pratikno, submitted Hadi’s name for the TNI chief’s post to the House last Monday. It was reported that as recently as a month ago Jokowi was still of a mind to replace Gatot upon his retirement in March.

A shift in the President’s mind came after the House’s Commission I overseeing defense interviewed Hadi and approved his nomination last Wednesday. The decision was upheld in a House plenary session on the following day.

One significant turning point appears to have been a statement by Gatot last Tuesday, when he called for the handover of the TNI leadership immediately after the House endorsed Hadi’s nomination as the next TNI chief. The statement was made after Gatot met President Jokowi at the Bogor Palace earlier in the day.

Deciding to reshuffle the top brass in the military is within the political domain of the President. However, the whole process of the recent TNI succession is worth examining closely, especially because the April 2019 presidential election is approaching. We can therefore assume that further surprising developments may continue even after the military reshuffle.