October 11, 2022
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is set to pick a new Indonesian Military (TNI) commander next month, replacing the outgoing chief Gen. Andika Perkasa ahead of the 2024 election season.
Talks about Andika’s successor have intensified as the military chief nears retirement age in December. Andika was appointed last year to replace then-TNI commander Hadi Tjahjanto, who came from the Air Force.
Andika said last week that the President would likely make a sudden announcement regarding his successor, citing past instances.
The law stipulates that the President can nominate one flag officer who holds or has held the post of chiefs of staff of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. The nominee will still have to be confirmed by the House of Representatives.
The House is currently in a month-long recess and will return in early November for the last sitting period of this year, giving Jokowi less than a month to submit a name to lawmakers before Andika’s retirement.
“We have yet to know when the letter [of nomination] will be sent by the Palace,” Utut Adianto, deputy chairman of House Commission I overseeing defense, told The Jakarta Post.
Yudo, Dudung in focus
Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Yudo Margono is said to be the frontrunner ahead of Army chief of staff Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, given that Navy chiefs of staff had not helmed the TNI during Jokowi’s two terms in office.
Even prior to Andika’s nomination last year, pressures had mounted on Jokowi to give Yudo a shot in order to maintain the tradition of rotating the leadership of the TNI among its three services, which would give a sense of equality among its rank and file.
“It would be good if Jokowi also pays attention to the morale of the soldiers, especially from the Navy,” military expert Anton Aliabbas said on Saturday.
The post-New Order convention was for the TNI chief to be rotated in an Army-Navy-Army-Air Force pattern after the top post had been filled by Army generals for the entirety of former president Soeharto’s 32 years in power. Jokowi broke the convention in 2015 when he nominated then-Army chief of staff Gatot Nurmantyo to succeed Moeldoko, who also came from the Army.
Having a commander with maritime background could help Jokowi put his grand vision to refashion Indonesia as a global maritime fulcrum on track, said researcher Khairul Fahmi of the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS).
Under his first administration, Jokowi had pledged to turn the country into a global maritime fulcrum, but the concept all but disappeared as he started his second term in office.
“Not to mention Indonesia has many challenges and threats in its waters that require readiness in a defense strategy, particularly since the Ukraine-Russo war has not ended and amid the AUKUS,” Khairul said. He was referring to a new security partnership formed by the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia late last year to respond to China’s growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.
While some observers said that Dudung still could be a strong contender for the post, some others believed that he had lost his chance after his rift with Andika was unveiled by House Commission I member Effendi Simbolon of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) last month.
Dudung was reportedly offended by Effendi who linked the feud with the failure of Dudung’s son to pass the entrance test for the Military Academy because of age and height issues. A video showing Dudung mobilizing Army soldiers to vent their outrage toward Effendi, with some soldiers making threats of physical violence against Effendi, went viral last month.
Like Andika, Dudung has links to the elite. His father-in-law late Maj. Gen. (ret.) Cholid Ghozali was on the supervisory board of Baitul Muslimin Indonesia, PDI-P’s umbrella organization to reach Muslim voters.
In early 2020, Dudung, as the then-Military Academy governor, built a statue of founding president Sukarno inside the academy’s premises which grabbed the attention of PDI-P chair and Sukarno’s daughter Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Dudung is also known for his tough policy against the now-defunct hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) when he served as the Jakarta Military Command chief in late 2020. While the move garnered a chorus of criticism from civil groups, it reportedly rewarded him the Army Strategic Reserve commander position in June 2021.
Seeking political support
Both Dudung and Yudo have recently moved to seek support, particularly from the PDI-P — of which Jokowi is a member — in their quest to succeed Andika.
In a Navy event in August, Yudo praised Megawati for her support toward developing Navy capabilities despite not having a military background. At the time, he also invited her to deliver a keynote address.
Dudung, meanwhile, has been touring around pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) since early this year and came up with the idea of recruiting enlisted men and non-commissioned officers from pesantren.
A House Commission I lawmaker told the Post that while Dudung still stands a chance of being the next TNI commander, his nomination might spark resistance from some political parties, especially after his maneuvers against Effendi drew the ire of some Commission I members.
“Dudung’s nomination might not be well received across factions. But this will also depend on PDI-P because if Yudo gets the nomination, PDI-P will not have its people at the military top post,” the lawmaker said.
If they succeed Andika, both Yudo and Dudung will likely assume office until they retire in November next year. Meanwhile, Air Force Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo will retire in April 2025.