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Indonesian general posied to throw his hat in the political ring

The Australian - January 4, 2018

Amanda Hodge, Nivell Rayda Indonesia's military chief, who suspended military co-operation with Australia a year ago and accused Canberra of trying to "recruit" his officers, looks set to launch his political career within months with a possible tilt at a provincial governorship -­ a tested platform to the presidency.

Gatot Nurmantyo, 57, has been named a possible candidate for the Central Java governor's post by three allied parties -­ Golkar, the United Development Party and the Democratic Party -­ ahead of nominations for ­regional elections in June.

Party officials confirmed yesterday that General Gatot, a nationalist with an apparent deep suspicion of Australia and the US, was a strong candidate in a shortlist of contenders for the post, but insisted there had been no communication with him given he is an active military officer until his retirement on March 13.

Just last month, General Gatot said he had no plans to enter politics and wanted to "spend time with both my grandchildren". But he added: "If the country needs me, I am ready to serve in any way I can, whatever my role may be."

General Gatot's short-listing has reignited speculation over his political ambitions, which some analysts suggest could stretch as high as the presidential palace.

He has also been touted as a possible vice-presidential running mate in 2019 to both incumbent, Joko Widodo, and his likely challenger, Prabowo Subianto, another retired general.

Philips J. Vermonte from the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies said General Gatot had the potential to win a future presidential election.

"It's just a question of whether he wants to participate in the 2019 race or wait until 2024," he said. By 2024, Jokowi would be constitutionally barred from contesting a third election and Mr Prabowo -­ now 66 -­ could be too old for another tilt.

"Right now, he cannot run on his own because his popularity is still way below Jokowi and Prabowo so he really has nothing to lose if he entered the gubernatorial race. "He could easily win the Central Java election and set his sight on 2024."

Mr Joko's rise from Jakarta governor to president had set a precedent for such a strategy, Mr Vermonte said, adding voters were slowly turning away from career politicians and political elites. "They want the country to be led by someone with a proven track record as a bureaucrat."

Paramadina University politics lecturer Hendri Satrio predicted General Gatot would most likely run as Mr Prabowo's vice-presidential candidate next year and build his strategy for a 2024 tilt at the presidency.

Either way, General Gatot's political rise would likely pose fresh challenges for Australia, which is enjoying an era of friendly relations with Indonesia but has a prickly history with the commander.

In March 2015, when he was army chief of staff, General Gatot said East Timor's secession from Indonesia was part of a proxy war launched by Australia to secure the oilfield in the Timor Gap. He reiterated his accusations the following June during his parliamentary confirmation hearing as military chief.

In November 2016, General Gatot described the presence of US marines in Darwin as a potential threat because the base was close to resource-rich West Papua and Indonesia's Masela gas block, and accused Australia of trying to "recruit" Indonesian officers through military exchange programs.

A month later he suspended a military exchange program with Australia over allegedly offensive teaching materials at Perth's Campbell Barracks that referred to the sensitive topic of independence in West Papua and appeared to ridicule Indonesia's founding philosophy of unity, known as Pancasila.

Australian army chief Angus Campbell was forced to deliver a personal apology to the commander but full military co-operation was restored only last February during Mr Joko's visit to Australia.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/indonesian-general-posied-to-throw-his-hat-in-the-political-ring/news-story/b8055bf9a1263cb499efaa78a9ccc389 ?.

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