November 13, 2023
JAKARTA – Gen. Agus Subiyanto, the sole nominee for the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief, will face a barrage of questions over his meteoric rise to the top post and his commitment to keeping the TNI neutral in the lead up to next year’s elections, at his confirmation hearing this week.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has nominated the 56-year-old Army chief of staff Agus to replace outgoing commander Adm. Yudo Margono, who will retire later this month, marking the rise of another longtime ally of the President in one of the country’s most strategic institutions nearing the end of his presidency.
But Jokowi’s own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), has reservations about confirming Agus, whose nomination came only days after Jokowi promoted him to the Army’s top post.
The PDI-P, the largest party at the House of Representatives, has seen its relationship with the President deteriorate since he let his eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka be named as running mate to presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who is a rival to the PDI-P’s candidate Ganjar Pranowo.
Lawmakers from the PDI-P will grill Agus on his commitment “to maintaining neutrality” and “keeping the military out of politics” at the confirmation hearing on Monday, senior party politician Tubagus Hasanuddin told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
“The President has the prerogative to nominate anyone, but we will do our part, to decide whether Agus is fit for the job,” Tubagus said, claiming that the party was responding to growing public concerns about TNI neutrality.
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With Jokowi retaining the loyal support of the largest electoral alliance backing Prabowo-Gibran in the House, which controls 261 of 575 House seats, Agus’ nomination appears unlikely to face major hurdles even without having the PDI-P on his side.
The PDI-P is well aware of this and therefore has proposed the formation of a House committee to specifically oversee and ensure the TNI remains neutral in the lead-up to the 2024 elections.
“Should Agus be confirmed, we will continue to scrutinize Agus and the military. That is why we have proposed forming the committee,” Tubagus said.
Experts and activists have raised similar concerns about the neutrality of the TNI during next year’s elections, concerns the Palace has dismissed.
“I can assure you that there is no such thing as fast-tracking [Agus’] nomination, let alone a political motive,” Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko said on Thursday, as quoted by kompas.com.
Jokowi and Agus’ professional relationship goes back to their time in Surakarta, Central Java, where the general served as the military district commander from 2009 to 2011, overlapping with Jokowi’s tenure as the mayor of Solo, the popular name for the city. About a year after Jokowi was reelected for the second time as president, he appointed Agus as commander of the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres) from 2020 to 2021.
Agus’ ascension to the TNI’s top post is the latest in the rise of Jokowi loyalists among his Surakarta circle of military and police officers, dubbed “geng Solo” (the Solo gang), in the country’s most strategic institutions nearing the end of Jokowi’s presidency next year.
Another prominent Jokowi loyalist from his Surakarta days who has attained a strategic post is National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo. Listyo served as Surakarta Police chief for three years from 2011, when Jokowi was reelected mayor of the city.
Three other figures widely seen as having Surakarta connection also hold top posts in Central Java, one of key battleground provinces in next year’s presidential election where much of the attention of the Prabowo-Gibran camp has been centered on in the lead up to the 2024 race.
They are Central Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Ahmad Luthfi, acting Central Java governor Nana Sudjana, a retired police general, and Maj. Gen. Widi Prasetijono, who leads the Diponegoro Military Command, which covers Central Java and Yogyakarta.
Nana and Ahmad served as Surakarta Police chief and deputy chief, respectively, when Jokowi was the city’s mayor. While Widi once served as commander of Warastratama District Command (Kodam), which is based in Surakarta.
Another rising star from Jokowi’s circle to watch is Lt. Gen. Maruli Simanjuntak, who currently leads the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), the 40,000-strong main strike force of the army. Speculation has been rife that the son-in-law of Luhut Panjaitan, one of the President’s most loyal aides, will take over Agus’ post as Army chief of staff.
Central Java has for years been a stronghold of the PDI-P, and its presidential candidate Ganjar is a former governor of the province. Senior minister Mahfud MD is his running mate.
The country’s third-largest province became Prabowo’s Achilles heel in his defeats to Jokowi in 2014 and 2019, with the former general only garnering 33 and 22 percent of the vote there, respectively.
But the addition of Gibran, who has been Surakarta mayor since 2020, and other key figures in Prabowo’s camp might see a much better performance this time round in the competition for votes in Central Java, according to several analysts.
Latest opinion polls conducted shortly before all three presidential candidate pairs registered with the election body have found that Ganjar was the most electable candidate among voters in Central Java and its neighboring Yogyakarta.
An Indikator Politik Indonesia survey showed that Ganjar-Mahfud had an electability of 63 percent in Central Java, followed by Prabowo-Gibran at 22.2 percent, while the third candidate pair Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar only registered 9.2 percent.
Ganjar also came out on top in a different survey from the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI), with an electability of 50.8 percent. Prabowo was in distant second at 22 percent, while Anies came in third at 10.4 percent.