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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK

World: Analysis

General Wiranto: a military power
image: [ General Wiranto at a press conference: but will he decide the talking has to stop? ]
General Wiranto at a press conference: but will he decide the talking has to stop?

Indonesia's Armed Forces Chief and Defence Minister General Wiranto has emerged as a key player in his country's current political unrest. Francis Markus of the BBC Asia Pacific Topical Unit looks at the man and his role.

General Wiranto was only installed in the most senior position in the Indonesian military in February.

But President Suharto's decision to appoint him was clearly based on a longstanding working relationship.

The General served as a presidential adjutant in the late 1980s before serving for a spell as Jakarta military commander.

Those who know him describe General Wiranto as by nature a moderate.

And analysts say that although his loyalty to President Suharto is proven, he is also concerned to maintain the integrity of the armed forces as an institution.

That is where the potential conflict for General Wiranto lies.

Crucial questions

As the extent of popular anger against the 76-year-old president has grown in recent days, the armed forces have found themselves confronted with a choice: do they protect President Suharto's rule at all costs or do they see their role as defending the people, even if that means the end of Mr Suharto's 32-year-rule?

General Wiranto over recent weeks has made clear the difficulty of this balancing act.

In keeping with the extensive social and political role taken by Indonesia's military since the struggle against Dutch colonial rule in the 1940s, Wiranto has expressed himself in favour of putting political reform on the national agenda.

But on Monday, he appeared to adopt a much tougher line, dismissing as illegal the parliamentary speaker's call for President Suharto's immediate resignation.

Difficult decisions

Clearly the calculation of how much force to use against the protesters, if things get out of control may be one of the most difficult ones General Wiranto will ever have to make.

The danger and uncertainty of the situation is increased by the fact that there are clearly various factions within the military.

One of the key players is a son-in-law of Mr Suharto, General Prabowo Subianto, who heads the army's Strategic Command.

He has direct authority over the military's feared anti-riot force.

As a member of the ruling family, his calculations on how far to go to keep Mr Suharto in power may well differ from those of General Wiranto.

But with the extent of popular opposition to Mr Suharto, Indonesia's armed forces may well believe that the end of his rule is only a matter of time.

The strategy of military leaders may be more concerned with buying time for a succession process in which they will have a decisive influence.

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