220. Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Department of State1

2324. Reference Deptel 1492.2 Ali Cabinet returned mandate to Sukarno today. According Palace source President will ask Cabinet to continue in caretaker capacity, thus no real change except belated admission its lack of authority. (Yesterday reported from Kalimantan that council headed by acting Territorial Commander Hasan Basry had assumed authority for government there and other local councils have formed and are discussing similar action in Jogjakarta, and Bandung.)

Subandrio told me this morning Sukarno would continue Ali Cabinet in caretaker capacity, declare martial law throughout country and appoint new Cabinet in about week. He did not elucidate further.

Sukarno continues adamant against inclusion Hatta. According Palace source he avoids seeing anyone who recommends inclusion Hatta. This source told Embassy officer today that Sukarno now contemplating Cabinet along lines previous Ali–Arifin (PNINU) excluding both PKI and Masjumi but including Communist sympathizers, and National Council with solid provincial representation. (These points verified other sources.) Source said he had proposed to President Cabinet headed by Sukarno and Hatta and composed of all previous Prime Ministers and Vice Prime Ministers (with Communist replacement for dead ex-Premier Sjarifuddin) which President had received with cryptic comment “not bad” and which he might use as “last resort”.

Sukarno has met several times this week with Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council raising widespread speculation that Sukarno contemplating declaration nation-wide martial law. Nasution has called for meeting all territorial commanders in Djakarta March 16. Fact Sukarno will be out of town for appearance Siantar (mytel 23083) indicative he is not yet ready attempt rule country through army. Sukarno’s trip to North Sumatra and visits he contemplates later to Palembang and Padang, according above source, indication he still hopes split forces in Sumatra and weaken opposition to him there.

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In this still highly fluid situation in which Sukarno apparently listening to everyone but Hatta and Hatta’s supporters only one factor constant, namely, Sukarno alone holds answer. Evidence of dangerous and uncontrolled forces which are attempting tip scales one way or other is report carried Sulah Indonesia day before yesterday that something important would happen in next 24 hours. According knowledgeable source this “something” was plan by Sukarno’s supporters Chairul Saleh, Achmadi, Hanafi, and others to kidnap Nasution and Gatot Subroto, Chief and Deputy Chief Army, because they had persuaded Sukarno last week to write letter to Hatta proposing meeting. Would-be kidnapper planned install pro-PNI Bambang Supeno as Chief Staff but latter refused and plan fell through.

Reliable estimate outcome this situation nearly impossible now but following factors will strongly influence future developments:

Sukarno’s refusal accept Hatta and near stalemate between his PKI supporters and Masjumi opposition will probably lead him to try to set up government led by PNI and NU. He may by declaration martial law throughout country try win army support.4
Sukarno apparently underestimates strength defiance and overestimates his own influence in outer provinces. His visit to Siantan this weekend may have healthy influence on him this respect. Nevertheless, he apparently now hopes to cope with provinces by forming national council in which provinces widely represented and which may for time produce semblance national unity.
With military commanders now exercising authority in all areas outside Java, army will soon be governing by default everywhere unless Sukarno can restore central civil authority to which provinces will respond. Except for lack of single, determined figure who can rally behind him various territorial commanders, army is de facto supreme authority now and trend is toward an increase in its power. While most informed sources question Nasution’s ability effect united, disciplined army Nasution has avoided alienating key territorial commanders and, even, Simbolon and Z. Lubis whom Ali government labeled traitors.

Unless Sukarno can find effective combination for Cabinet therefore, and bends to will outside provinces, Masjumi, et cetera, to include Hatta, army appears only hope on horizon for holding country together and patriotism army commanders may catalyze them into semblance unity. Such development would not necessarily eliminate continued position and influence Sukarno who has carefully avoided public words or actions condemning territorial commanders as have they with respect to him.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 756D.00/3–1457. Confidential
  2. Telegram 1492 to Djakarta, March 12, requested the Embassy’s assessment of the current political situation and its estimate of future developments. (Ibid., 756D.00/3–1257)
  3. Telegram 2308 from Djakarta, March 13, reported that Sukarno was scheduled to go to North Sumatra that weekend to speak to a meeting of Christian groups, apparently to try to win support for his “concept.” (Ibid., 756D.00/3–1357)
  4. Telegram 2325 from Djakarta, March 14, reported that Sukarno had announced that day that he was establishing a “state of war and siege” (full martial law) throughout Indonesia. (Ibid., 756D.00/3–1457)