233. Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Department of State 1

4287. Subject: Post-MPRS Political Situation.

MPRS session just concluded represents what is probably significant turning point for Indonesia. Not only has all effective power been formally removed from Sukarno 2 but of even greater importance for future of this country, basis has been laid for more healthy relationship among political elements. Civilians stood up and fought for what they believed in and military, to its credit, let them do so and in fact met many of their demands. Victory of civilian forces and “hawks” within military was not, however, so lopsided as to encourage them in future to challenge executive without good cause. Through it all, Suharto again showed his sincere dedication to democratic means (at any point he could have moved in and imposed solution), his ability to juggle [Page 496]political forces and his skill in gaining consensus for his actions. These traits will be invaluable as he tackles difficult tasks ahead. Following is our estimate of major political steps in months ahead as Indonesia moves toward elections scheduled for mid-1968.
We do not foresee an early crystallization of political forces into lasting coalitions on order of that evolving in MPRS session. On contrary, we expect constant shifting of political alliances as issues succeed each other. Moslems may at points be pitted against secularists and Christians. Two giant Javanese parties (NU and PNI) may form tactical and temporary alliances against outer-island organizations. Political parties will find themselves united at times against military with action fronts in swing position. Finally military itself will probably divide occasionally on certain issues with each faction picking up different civilian allies. This type of political kaleidoscope suits well Suharto’s political technique. He works largely as “loner” and in anti-Sukarno campaign proved himself adept at juggling political forces.
Sukarno, of course, represented only first of many issues which will eventually determine nature of new regime. In his speech accepting MPRS mandate, Acting President Suharto placed most emphasis on general elections as culminating test for new order. We suspect that both political and economic activities will now focus in large part on this distant event.
First on agenda for parliament is government’s electoral package (bills on parties, parliament’s composition and election system). These bills will probably stimulate heated debate. NU will join PNI in fighting single-member constituency system, and parties as whole will probably seek maintain unaffiliated functional group representation in general and military contingent in particular at present level. MP’s attached to action fronts may side with military on some of these issues. We expect that customary Indonesian compromise will be reached involving perhaps combination of single member constituency and proportional representation systems.
Parties will press hard for portfolios in cabinet, which are important source of funds and patronage needed to wage election campaign. Although Suharto may be forced to give a little, we suspect that he will maintain principle of “working cabinet” leaving parties largely restricted to representative bodies. Cabinet reshuffle may well occur within next few months but will probably be aimed more at increasing cabinet’s efficiency than satisfying political party demands. Such figures as Malik and Sultan seem safe, although latter may be bolstered by appointment of qualified technicians to some economic portfolios.
Suharto in particular and armed forces in general are also “running” in coming election. Their showing, as Suharto is well aware, depends on success of Ampera cabinet. We can expect NU, PNI and [Page 497]other parties to attempt discreetly exploit any lack of progress in economic sector, particularly if they have been unsuccessful in obtaining cabinet posts. Suharto will thus continue concentrate on his economic program, increasing pressures on foreign governments to contribute. Ironically, lack of progress in this sector may well prolong cabinet’s life as Suharto and military will be unwilling face election unless and until adequate progress has been made.
We expect election to be postponed for six months or year at least, ostensibly on administrative grounds, and few should genuinely object. Postponement will apparently require reconvening of MPRS, probably month or two before present election deadline (July 1968).
General Suharto’s primary political base will remain the armed forces and we believe that he will [do] more to strengthen his hold over military services.
Changes in top navy and police leadership is high on agenda. Suharto perhaps hopes that Navy Minister Muljadi, Marine Commandant Hartono and Police Minister Sutjipto will fall of their own weight once their underlings assess their failure to influence significantly outcome of MPRS session. After cooling off period, Suharto might personally take hand in their ouster and perhaps ask Adam Malik to cough up more Ambassadorial positions.
Suharto may also seek reduce political power of army hawks. He is especially wary of allowing regional commanders to build up powerful political bases in non-Javanese areas. General Dharsono is doing just that in West Java as is General Solichin in South Sulawesi. They may be assigned to staff positions along with Kostrad Chief of Staff Kemal Idris and RPKAD Commander Sarwo Edhie. These shifts will probably be done gradually and in manner not unduly harmful to their military careers or alarming to their supporters.
Pressures will continue, especially from political parties, to persuade Suharto to relinquish one or both of his military portfolios. We suspect that he will not do so at least until he has accomplished measures mentioned above.
Students may pose occasional problem for Suharto. Military will now wish to put them back into classes but they are understandably reluctant to disband successful action front organizations. Accustomed to regarding themselves as voice of people’s conscience and cognizant that some cause is necessary to keep their organizations intact, students may be tempted to take to streets again to protest unpopular measures. In this eventuality they would be pitted directly against the military and we do not rule out clashes such as occurred on October 3. This threat, however, will probably subside with time.
Suharto’s long range concern is latent threat from left. Additional military operations against isolated neo-PKI forces in Java as [Page 498]that conducted against Mbah Suro (Djakarta 4183)3 will be undertaken, either at Suharto’s command or at initiative of individual army commanders. PNI also continues to worry Suharto. He may make another big effort to clean up this party, perhaps dictating further changes in its leadership, Suharto’s overall goal is not tonjoiveanese [to increase Javanese?] secularist voice to balance rising Moslem-outer island coalition.
We do not foresee any significant changes in GOI foreign policy, which has proceeded for most part unobstructed by struggle with Sukarno.
In sum, Suharto’s expert handling of leadership question has placed him in good position to face multitude of problems which have been awaiting termination of anti-Sukarno campaign to surface. Statements of support voiced at Amsterdam meeting and indications of US willingness to mount modest civic action program have proved to be well timed expressions of free world interest which may encourage Suharto’s government to move forward.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 INDON. Secret. Repeated to Bangkok, Canberra, CINCPAC for POLAD, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Medan, Singapore, Surabaya, Tokyo, and Wellington.
  2. According to telegram 4239 from Djakarta, March 13, Suharto was sworn in as Acting President at 10:45 p.m. on March 12 after the People’s Consultative Assembly—Provisional (MPRS) accepted by acclamation that afternoon a decree withdrawing Sukarno’s mandate. (Ibid.)
  3. Not found.