From the April 2000 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 47, No. 4)


Wiranto Ousted

Will Swarts, World Press Review assistant editor

A three-week power play by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid eventually forced security minister and former armed forces commander Wiranto (who uses only one name) from the cabinet, but raised the prospect of a military coup.

Hong Kong’s centrist South China Morning Post (Feb. 2) reported Wahid’s call for his security minister’s resignation after publication of a government report implicating Wiranto in human rights abuses in East Timor. “There are fears the armed forces might bite back if humiliated too much,” it said.

Wahid got support in the independen Bangkok Post (Feb. 2): “Such is the delicacy of his situation that Wahid also needs the backing of the international community, in particular its [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] partners.”

 “Rumors of a coup and political uprising have reached fever pitch,” said the independent Jakarta Post (Feb. 4).

On Feb. 8, Wiranto spoke to the independent Straits Times of Singapore. “I want to secure the situation, to show it’s still cool in Indonesia,” he said.

While abroad, on Feb. 11, Wahid told Seoul’s conservative Chosun Ilbo: “I have a plan, in case Wiranto does not step down upon my return. I can apply a regulation that suspends him of duties.”

After Wahid balked and allowed Wiranto to stay on following a Feb. 13 meeting in Jakarta, domestic and foreign press attacked. “The President’s climb-down is a blow to his credibility,” the South China Morning Post stated Feb. 14. An Indonesian legislator, in the Feb. 15 Jakarta Post, said “the president should not make sensitive statements during overseas trips, It could damage him.” But Wahid reversed himself again, expelling Wiranto and “demonstrating his mastery of the psychological warfare of politics,” the same Post article said. Jakarta’s independent newsmagazine Tempo (Feb. 15) used U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s visit to Indonesia to back Wahid. “When asked about the suspension…Annan diplomatically replied, ‘That is the president’s right, and I support him.’ ”

Regional media sorted out the aftermath. “Wahid has been more than Machiavellian in his dealing with General Wiranto,” said a Feb. 15 editorial in The independent Nation of Bangkok. “Wahid has an important mission to put the Indonesian military back in the barracks.”

Wiranto then played disc jockey on a Jakarta radio station: “ ‘There’s an open conflict and potential toward friction,’ he said, blaming much of the country’s problems on the media,” according to the Straits Times (Feb. 22).

Tempo’s interactive Web site for Feb. 19 even ran an animated cartoon showing Wahid waving a magic wand, making Wiranto disappear.

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