342 Dispatch to Peacock

Jakarta, 19 November 1975


Indonesia: The Internal Situation The Uneasy Calm

[matter omitted]

The Leadership

President Soeharto has maintained and strengthened his own position during the last twelve months and remains firmly in control. He appears certain to secure re-election in early 1978 for a further term as President, at which time he will still be only 56 years of age. More interest will centre on the election at the same time of a Vice-President. The Sultan ofYogyak:arta, who is currently Vice-President, has been in indifferent health and will then be 65 years old. He is said not to be anxious to carry on. Speculation about his possible successor has already included General Surono, the present Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, although he is also slated to become Minister for Defence when General Panggabean retires or should his health fail before then.

It has been suggested that President Soeharto's position could be endangered if developments in Portuguese Timor go badly for Indonesia. This is based on the argument that since the President declined to accept his military advisers' recommendation in favour of direct intervention in Portuguese Timor—that he 'hesitated'—the Armed Forces (ABRI) might blame Soeharto for any failure in Portuguese Timor and turn against him. I do not consider that this is likely. While there was initial disappointment among some, but not all, key military advisers at the President's firm decision (he did not hesitate), Indonesia's policy of covert military intervention is, as far as we know, now fully supported by ABRI.

The Armed Forces

The Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) have presented a united front over the past year. While any divisions in its leadership which may have existed prior to January 1974 have been effectively papered over, there has inevitably been some speculation about General Panggabean's successor as Commander of the Armed Forces and Minister for Defence and Security. Panggabean has already reached the normal military retirement age; his ill-health also suggests that he may step down soon. General Surono is a strong and generally acceptable contender for this job too. We do not know which position, Vice-President or Defence, he would prefer, although of course they are not mutually exclusive. Appointment to replace Panggabean during 1976, say, might then be followed by transition to the Vice-Presidency in early 1978. Either appointment would make Surono a strong contender to succeed President Soeharto eventually. It seems unlikely that the succession in ABRI leadership would create internal problems for the Armed Forces. A certain amount of discontent persists at junior levels of the Armed Forces: the nature and scale of the personal enrichment and ostentatious life style of some senior officers appalls many junior and middle-ranking officers. The post-1945 officer generation are said to regard themselves as professional soldiers rather than dwi fungsi administrators. This feeling does not represent any serious challenge to the Armed Forces leadership at present, but could be important in five to ten years as these younger officers inherit positions of power within the Armed Forces.

[matter omitted]

Implications for Australia

The short-term prospects for stability are in accord with Australia's interests in Indonesia. However, we need to watch carefully the elements of instability contained within the present situation which make the medium and long-term prospects less certain. It is in Australia's interests that a stable and credible central Government should hold power in Jakarta.

Stability is, of course, not the only criterion. A continuing preoccupation with internal security by the Indonesian Government, and the implications this has for current and future developments with regard to political prisoners, may pose a problem for us. This can, however, be a matter on which we agree to differ and should be viewed in the context of our overall relations and interests.

Finally, it has generally been accepted that it is important to maintain good relations with Indonesia, regardless of who is in power in both countries. In the context of this despatch, this means that while making use of our opportunities to forge and maintain close links and good channels into the present Indonesian Government, we should be alert to alternative centres of power and careful not to allow ourselves to be seen as too intimately tied up with the personnel of the present regime. The emphasis must be, so far as it is possible in practical terms, on our relations with Indonesia as a country and the Indonesian Government as such, rather than the personal relationship with President Soeharto and his immediate circle.

R. A. WOOLCOTT- Ambassador

[NAA: Al838, 3034/10/6/9, i]