TNI's Army Chief of Staff: I Have No Reason to Distrust Polri

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe Indonesian armed forces (TNI), particularly the army, found itself caught in a crossfire between supporters of Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto who are bitterly polarized in the recent presidential election.

    Some accused the armed forces of supporting the incumbent; others alleged it supported the contender, who is also the former commander of the army strategic reserve command (Kostrad) and the commander-general of the special forces command (Kopassus).

    Instead of waning after the election, the rumors intensified. In the wake of the May 22 riots--after the general elections commission (KPU) declared Joko Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin the winners--the police arrested Retired Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zen, the former Kostrad chief of staff (1998-2000) on suspicion of masterminding assassination of state officials, and Retired. Maj. Gen. Soenarko, the commander-general of Kopassus (2007-2008), for alleged ownership of illegal firearms. The arrests are said to have caused a stir within the armed forces.

    Army Chief of Staff Gen. Andika Perkasa squashed all the rumors. While acknowledging the existence of a handful of soldiers who violated the principle of neutrality, he said they had been court-martialed and given sanctions. “We have no position other than being neutral in the general elections,” he declared.

    Andika, 54, gave assurance the force is unaffected by the retired generals’ legal troubles. The former commander of the presidential security force (2014-2016) also asserted the army’s strict adherence to the chain of command right up to the commander of the armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto. “I don’t see any possibility of making moves outside (the chain of command) or being mobilized from outside,” said the Class of 1987 graduate of the military academy.

    Last Thursday, Andika received Tempo’s Arif Zulkifli, Reza Maulana, Raymundus Rikang and Angelina Anjar at the army headquarters in Central Jakarta for an interview; his first since his appointment eight months ago. In the one-and-a-half-hour long interview that often broke out into laughter, Andika answered forthrightly all the questions ranging from the army’s neutrality, the high number of idle army officers to his penchant for weightlifting. But the general’s lips were tightly zipped when asked about his chances of becoming commander-in-chief.

    How did the armed forces (TNI), the army in particular, position itself in the presidential election?

    There can be no other position than being neutral. That is the age-old doctrine. I have many roles to play in the army because we have so many personnel, as high as 348,000, both military and civil. That’s not easy, but that’s what we do. We don’t want to isolate ourselves nor claim things. Therefore, I can only accept whatever impression the public has about us.  

    The phenomenon of Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno winning in many army housing complexes hints at a tendency of non-neutrality?

    We certainly did not cast votes; therefore, it clearly has nothing to do with active soldiers. We can rely on their commitment.

    But the fact is that several active soldiers were found to have violated the principle of neutrality....

    The prosecution of violators that occurred in the campaign period up to the election is a testament to our commitment to uphold neutrality. We acted as soon as we discovered violations.  

    How Many?

    Very few, and even more so when compared with the total number of army personnel. Actually, they committed small offenses like using hand symbols in photos. There was no such thing as blatantly ordering others to choose A or B.

    The army was mobilized during the protests against the presidential election results. How did the protests turn into a riot?

    Don’t ask me that question. We were deployed for security; however, it was the national police (Polri) which decided where we would be deployed.

    Kopassus was placed on standby but why wasn’t it used?

    Kopassus was officially involved. There were around 350 personnel already on standby at the Kopassus headquarters in Cijantung, East Jakarta; however, there were protocols. Polri, which was in command, decided where and when the TNI should appear. So, the deployment of Kopassus was put on hold so long as the regional military command could still handle the dynamics of the situation.

    In what sort of situation would they have been deployed?

    That would be at the discretion of the TNI chief. The May 21-22 situation did not warrant their presence.  

    Is it true that the Kopassus was not mobilized because there were indications of its former members’ involvement in the unrest?

    I’ve never heard of that. Even though the TNI chief, not myself, had the authority over the security operation, I am sure that was not the reason. It was based purely on operational considerations.  

    As a former member of the red berets (Kopassus), what do you think is the psychological reaction of a soldier when a former commander is implicated in a crime?  

    Such an incident never happened when I was there; therefore, I cannot say how I would react. But I’m sure it will not sway our official stance whatsoever. Our official stance is to stay in line with the unit command’s order which definitely comes from the higher command.  

    Including the incident involving a former Kopassus commander-general?

    Absolutely. I don’t see any possibility of them moving outside or being mobilized solely by external influences. I can ascertain that.  

    Was there any reaction among the officers following the arrests of the two former generals?

    They are former senior officers who retired after carrying out their duty in the armed forces. In my opinion, with their level of maturity, knowledge and experience, they should know what is lawful or unlawful, and whatever the consequence of their action is totally their responsibility. Even in our day-to-day job, say, concerning orders, we hardly communicate with others outside the command structure. Therefore, if you ask whether we were affected, the answer is clearly: no.  

    Is it true you stayed over at the Kopassus headquarters on May 21 and May 22 to prevent a possible mutiny?

    No, not true. My latest visit to Cijantung was on May 20, two days before. We have a clear mechanism. No one could have acted outside the chain of command.

    Why, on the day that Soenarko was arrested, on May 21, did Kopassus Commander-General Maj. Gen. I Nyoman Cantiasa issue an order warning the Kopassus corps against acting outside the chain of command?  

    I have no idea, because I didn’t give any order. Perhaps it was done to give assurance to the public. But there was absolutely no insubordination. Not even an indication.

    Did the army back the Polri in the case implicating the two retired generals?

    I cannot possibly have no faith in the Polri. We have different core duties. We are not familiar with what they do. They have been at what they do for so long. Therefore, I believe, in fact, very strongly believe in them. Likewise, I hope they also have faith in the army to conduct our duties.

    Why are you stressing the need for Polri to also have faith in the army?

    They can only assess us if they also do the same duties we do. And vice versa for us. We have to have faith in the police for executing the very fine details of their work. There is no reason for me not to have faith in the police.

    There is wide opinion that especially soldiers were disgruntled with the priority given to the police. Your response?

    That is absolutely false. There was no reflection of this in our performance of duties. You could see the two forces continuing to work closely together, keep the security post-election, and also during the Idul Fitri holiday. We certainly are interdependent. Therefore, we continue to support and complement each other.

    Budget inequality is an example, and was an issue highlighted in the meeting President Joko Widodo had with several TNI senior officers on May 31….

    I studied public policy. All government institutions want bigger budgets; however, we must remember, the state budget is limited. The government determines priority areas. I prefer to focus on making the optimal use of any budget allocated to us while continuing to fight for a budget increase.  

    The relation between the TNI and Polri was strained during the term of TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, particularly following the purchase of 5,000 firearms in October 2017. Do you see it improving after Air Force Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto became the chief of staff?

    I cannot comment on his (Gen. Gatot’s) statement made at the time. So far, I can see TNI and Polri complement each other well in performing our daily duties.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine