by SAM ABRAMS
On Wednesday Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known here as “SBY,” named Lieutenant General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin as the new deputy defense minister. With the top spot in the Ministry of Defense reserved for civilians, military and political observers — such as Evan A. Laksmana at Jakarta’s Center for Strategic and International Studies — see this as a transparent move to placate the Indonesian army. Though SBY is a former general, he was not a “general’s general,” having never commanded a major military campaign, and rising through the ranks by way of his intellect. Sjamsoeddin, on the other hand, has been Secretary General at the Defense Ministry since 2005.
Since 1998, when the Suharto regime gave way to democratic politics, the military has experienced significant, if incomplete changes. The police have been formally separated from the military, active-duty military officers are no longer permitted to participate in government, the military’s businesses have been taken away and the Minister of Defense is a civilian. While Sjamsoeddin’s appointment as the number-two in the Ministry of Defense assures the military that its core institutional interests will not be threatened further, the move also conjures memories, especially among minorities and NGOs, of the abuses in 1998 and in East Timor.