December 22, 2022
JAKARTA – Newly retired Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. Andika Perkasa may have had a fast-tracked and decorated career that looks good on paper if offered to the sizable population of voters who still prefer presidential and vice presidential candidates with a military background, but Indonesia’s realpolitik may soon show that this is not enough.
Even before he ended his tenure as TNI chief, Andika had often skirted questions about his rumored plan to go into politics and run in the 2024 election after retirement.
But the 58-year old general has on several occasions also hinted that he is not really retiring. “I want to keep being productive […] We will meet again, no need to worry,” he said earlier this month in North Jakarta.
A class of 1987 graduate from the Military Academy in Magelang, Central Java, Andika started his career in the Army’s elite Special Forces (Kopassus). He then rose through the ranks after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo came to power in 2014, having been appointed commander of the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres), a position he held until 2016.
He was quickly promoted in the ensuing years in order to allow a Jokowi loyalist to take control of the Army ahead of the 2019 general elections. For four months in 2018, as a three-star general, he held the influential post of chief of the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad). That same year, he became Army chief of staff.
Many questioned his credentials when he took command of the TNI last year from Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, another close Jokowi ally who commanded the air base in Surakarta, Central Java, when Jokowi was the city’s mayor. At that point, Andika had spent most of his career studying overseas and thus lacked operational experience.
It is widely perceived that Andika’s meteoric rise in the military may have been linked to his father-in-law, retrired general AM Hendropriyono, a former intelligence chief during Megawati Soekarnoputri’s presidency and current Jokowi loyalist.
In his year-long tenure as TNI commander, speculation was rife that Andika had sought ways to boost his popularity in order to contest the 2024 election, including expanding and taking over hosting duties for the Garuda Shield exercise from Army chief of staff Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, irking some members of the military top brass. The ensuing Super Garuda Shield, held in August, was touted as the largest-ever joint exercise with the United States and was instrumental in the warming of US-Indonesian military relations.
Andika also lifted a ban on recruiting descendants of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members into the military, garnering praise from human rights groups while sparking questions about attempts to burnish his pro-rights credentials.
And while shying away from any open display of political ambition when he first took the top job, his retirement has precipitated discussions on whether he would carve out a path in politics and pursue high office in 2024.
New kid on the block
But politics is an entirely different ball game, said Made Supriatma, a visiting fellow for the Indonesia studies program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
In a country where political parties hold the constitutional mandate to nominate a candidate to run for office, Andika, without “strong roots” in any party, will have a lot to prove.
“Party politics and military politics are two very different realities. He needs to start over and work his way up from the bottom to build credentials and prove himself worthy of being a capable politician,” Made told The Jakarta Post.
The NasDem Party previously named Andika among its three preferred presidential nominees, before eventually declaring former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan as its candidate of choice.
With his secular-nationalist background, Andika is now being touted as a potential running mate for Anies given that the latter’s electoral success in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election was heavily influenced by religious identity politics.
Others believe he is being considered as a potential running mate for Megawati’s daughter Puan Maharani, who is likely to be named as the presidential candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
But even fellow military retiree and Democratic Party chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who is also a frontrunner for the VP slot, would not be so keen on the idea of being challenged by Andika, Made said.
“Even the inexperienced AHY would ask him: ‘Who are you? I ran for governor even though I lost. I defeated a former general who tried to take over my party.’”
There is still a sizable number of voters who prefer leaders with a military background, according to several public opinion polls, as they are seen as being assertive and have strong leadership qualities.
However, as the latest person with a military career to vie for a ticket to run in the 2024 race, Andika has a relatively low electability score compared with the likes of Agus or Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto, another retired general and three-time election candidate.
“If he has the will and courage to run in 2024, he will have less than a year to build a support base and convince parties to back his candidacy. This, however, will not be easy as there are a lot of players in the field,” Ahmad Khoirul Umam, a lecturer at Paramadina University, said.