Indonesia cancels major reshuffle of generals in unprecedented move

Former Indonesian military commander Gatot Nurmantyo (right) and new Armed Forces Chief Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto at an inauguration ceremony, on Dec 8.

JAKARTA - In an unprecedented move, the newly-installed chief of Indonesia's Armed Forces (TNI) has revoked a major reshuffle involving 32 senior officers his controversial predecessor Gatot Nurmantyo had made before the leadership change.

Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said in a statement yesterday that he made the decision after considering what the TNI needs and the challenges it could face going forward.

"The evaluation of the military officers was made on the basis of professionalism and merit," he added.

MPs like deputy chairman of Parliament's defence and security committee Hanafi Rais urged reporters not to politicise the reversal, saying: "Such rotations are normal and we understand it is the military chief's privilege."

However, analysts read the move as squarely aimed at curtailing General Gatot's influence in the TNI, especially as the former chief had reshuffled the top ranks on Dec 4, days before the handover of power to his successor on Dec 8.

Moreover, Gen Gatot had appointed his loyalists to key strategic posts like helming the Army Strategic Reserve Forces (Pangkostrad).

Major-General Sudirman, who he appointed as Pangkostrad commander, will return to being operations assistant to the army chief of staff.

And Lieutenant-General Edy Rahmayadi, who was replaced as Pangkostrad commander and assigned to army headquarters ahead of retirement, will retain that post.

Maj-Gen Sudirman, who was former head of southern Sumatra's Sriwijaya military command, is said to be Gen Gatot's protege, and his appointment would have made him able to mobilise a major strike force of up to 40,000, ahead of crucial elections in 2018 and 2019.

As for Lt-Gen Edy, he plans to run for the North Sumatra governorship, backed by opposition parties.

Gen Gatot, 57, who assumed the top TNI post in June 2015, is widely believed to harbour political ambitions for the 2019 presidential election, and some of his public actions and remarks had courted controversy.

At the TNI's 71st anniversary event last year, he called for the reinstatement of TNI's political rights - at odds with the policy that denies soldiers and policemen the right to vote as part of reforms enacted after Suharto fell in 1998, to keep the military out of politics.

A good number of retired generals have joined politics after removing their uniforms, but Gen Gatot had been active in courting support while still in service.

During massive street protests organised by the hardline Islamic Defenders Front in December 2016, he doffed his beret for a white prayer cap. He also held a mass prayer at the National Monument in Jakarta and invited controversial cleric Arifin Ilham, who launched a tirade against President Joko Widodo.

The reversal of the 32 officers affects a fraction of the moves Gen Gatot had made in the past two months. In late October, he moved 91 senior TNI officers, before moving a further 85 officers this month.

Observers see his early retirement - he reaches the traditional returement age of 58 only in March 2018 - as a response by the administration to his political manoeuvering, and the reversal of his controversial reshuffle is unlikely to generate much opposition.

Parliament also approved the appointment of his successor, who has a close relationship with President Joko, unanimously this month. One key goal Air Chief Marshal Hadi has set out is to ensure the TNI does not get involved in politics.

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