Elite Indonesian army special forces known as Kopassus stand in formation at Halim Perdana Kusumah airport in Jakarta. Photo: AFP / Romeo Gacad

If Indonesian President Joko Widodo didn’t know already, it is by now crystal clear that opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto tops a long list of disgruntled military retirees who have come out of the woodwork to align themselves against the newly re-elected leader.

A former commander of the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and the Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) in the final years of the Suharto era, Prabowo may have made many enemies during his days in the service, but he clearly still has plenty of friends as well.

While they have little clout in terms of political power, they do remain influential figures in Indonesian society, whose views are respected, if not always listened to, among serving officers in the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

Some are well-versed in clandestine intelligence operations, as seen in the lead up to East Timor’s vote for independence in 1999 and during the final days of the Aceh rebellion before it was brought to an end by the devastating 2004 tsunami.

Others, like legendary Navy commando Vice Admiral Moekhlas Sidik, 65, have long held positions in Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) or are loyal to the candidate for other reasons, which may be either personal or ideological.

Members of the anti-Widodo National Sovereignty Forum (FSK), for example, range from former Kostrad chief General Bibit Waluyo, 69, a Prabowo ally from the late 1990s, to ex-information minister General Yunus Yosfiah, 74, leader of the special forces troops who killed five Australian journalists during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

Former Kopassus chief Major General Soenarko has been arrested for subversion and indicted for treason. Photo: Kopassus

While he is listed as a member of Gerindra’s security division, there otherwise is little to connect Prabowo to former Kopassus chief Major General Soenarko, 65, another NSF member who was arrested and charged with subversion on May 21, the day before Jakarta’s pro-Prabowo riots that resulted in at least eight deaths.

Soenareko allegedly tried to smuggle weapons to anti-Widodo rioters, but it is not clear whether he is also part of what police say was a plot to murder coordinating ministers Wiranto and Luhut Panjaitan, national intelligence director Budi Gunawan and presidential intelligence advisor Gories Mere.

Six people have been taken into custody in connection with the plot and police say they are still gathering evidence to charge an as-yet unidentified mastermind who was acting alone and apparently not part of any recognizable organization.

Soenarko is the first general to be indicted for treason in the democratic era, a sign of how seriously the Widodo government has treated efforts by opposition groups to turn their unproven claims of election fraud into an open insurrection.

Prabowo’s nominal campaign manager, on the other hand, is ailing former armed forces commander (2007-2010) Djoko Santoso, 66, whose loyalty dates back to when he served under Prabowo in Kostrad’s elite 328th Airborne Battalion.

As head of the Pattimura regional command, Santoso earned respect and admiration for putting a lid on the bloody sectarian conflict on the Maluku islands of Halmahera and Ambon, where thousands died between 1999 and 2002.

A more controversial figure is general Tyasno Sudarto, 70, an ex-army chief (1999-2000) and designated head of the NSF, which recently called on the military and police to show where they stood as “servants and protectors of the people” – a suggestion to break ranks with Widodo’s government.

Former army chief Tyasno Sudarto leads the anti-Widodo, pro-Prabowo National Sovereignty Forum group of ex-top soldiers. Photo: Facebook

While the chain of command prevails, loyalties are clearly mixed among serving officers, given the widespread resentment over the perceived preferential treatment given to police in their lead role in internal security and the money-making opportunities it offers.

According to the authors of the book “Deliverance,” Sudarto — then chief of military intelligence — was initially placed in charge of the failed covert operation to ensure East Timor voted against independence in a 1999 referendum.

A year later, when Sudarto was still army chief, the military defendant in a counterfeit money case claimed the general had overseen an operation to pay Timorese militias involved in the post-referendum violence in fake currency.

As during his military career, Prabowo’s closest allies are still a coterie of other Kopassus veterans, including former deputy defense minister Lieutenant General Syafrie Syamsuddin, 62, Major General Chairawan Nusyirwan, Major General Glenny Khairapun and Major General Tono Suratman.

Like Prabowo, who was cashiered in 1998 for the kidnapping and abuse of pro-democracy activists, Syamsuddin is also blacklisted from the United States, in his case because of allegations surrounding the 1991 Dili, East Timor, churchyard massacre and Jakarta’s bloody 1998 riots that brought down Suharto.

Now Gerindra’s deputy head for security, Nusyirwan was never prosecuted as commanding officer of the eleven Kopassus Group 4 operators, known as Team Rose, who ran a secret special forces interrogation center in South Jakarta.

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks to his supporters after the presidential election in Jakarta, April 19, 2019. Photo: AFP Forun via NurPhoto/Andrew Gal

Team leader Colonel Bambang Kristiono, sentenced to 22 months in jail and fired from the army, claimed the nine activists they had kidnapped had all been released, including Pius Lustrilanang, 50, a two-time Gerindra legislator.

In the years following his release, Kristiono worked for Prabowo’s Nusantara business group and also as a political organizer in the formation of Gerindra. He also worked on the Megawati Sukarnoputri-Prabowo campaign team in the 2009 presidential election.

An Indonesian businessman brought in to clean up Nusantara several years ago recalled having to fire what he said was a whole floor of army retirees, who had desks and monthly salaries but no jobs. It is a situation the military itself is confronted with now.

With the political tide turning against him, Prabowo did accept command responsibility for the nine abductions, something an Indonesian general had never done, but not for another 13 kidnapped activists who are still missing and may have been victims of a separate group of abductors.

Nusyirwan, for his part, was dismissed as head of Group 4, but to the outrage of human rights groups was kept in the service and transferred to military intelligence, where he was assigned to rebellious Aceh and even at one point acted as an escort for European Union ceasefire monitors.

Indonesian anti-riot police secure an area during pro-Prabowo election-related riots in Jakarta, May 22, 2019. Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo

Promoted to brigadier general, he remained in active service long after the US began to apply pressure on Jakarta to rid the armed forces of suspected human rights violators as a condition for Washington to lift a 13-year arms embargo.

Before being promoted to lead Group 4, Nusyirwan had led Satuan Tugas Intellijen, the shadowy unit which ran secret intelligence operations across East Timor, often outside the knowledge and control of local military commanders.

Khairapun served in the same unit, as did Yayat Sudradjat, 69, a retired three-star general and former head of military intelligence who also appears among the more than 100 military pensioners from all four services on the list of anti-Widodo NSF dissidents.

The only odd man out from Prabowo’s old inner circle is Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, 71, another ex-armed forces intelligence director and uncle of Nadiem Makarim, founder of the Go-Jek online ride-hailing company, who disappeared into virtual obscurity after his retirement in 2006.

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