The Indonesian military should stay out of politics and remain loyal to the government, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Thursday in an apparent rebuke over contentious statements by the country's top general.
Military chief Gen Gatot Nurmantyo has stirred controversy in the past month with warnings of a renewed communist threat to Indonesia and a claim that a non-military organisation was trying to import thousands of weapons.
In a speech to a parade marking the military's 72nd anniversary, Jokowi said the armed forces are a national institution that should stay above politics and not be fragmented by narrow interests.
The military “should always ensure its political neutrality in the current democratic era,” he said.
Indonesia's army retreated from politics after the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998 ushered in democracy, but nearly two decades later, a role limited to national defence is not fully accepted among officers or the rank-and-file. The army has tried to inch back into civilian areas and resented the police's leading role in counter-terrorism.
Jokowi's predecessor as president was a former general, as was his main rival in the 2014 presidential election, Prabowo Subianto.
Nurmantyo, who local media say might harbour ambitions to run for president in 2019, last month attended an Islamic political party event where he warned that communists, a boogeyman frequently invoked by Indonesian conservatives, were a renewed threat.
Earlier in the month, the four-star general claimed that a government institution tried to import 5,000 guns “on behalf” of Jokowi. The president's top security minister, however, said that the national intelligence service had ordered several hundred rifles from a state-owned weapons company for training purposes.
Thursday's parade in the coastal West Java city of Cilegon comprised nearly 6,000 soldiers and Indonesia's most modern imported weaponry.
In a speech at the parade, Nurmantyo said soldiers are sworn to protect the Indonesian people and obey the president.
“Do not doubt our loyalty,” he said.