Officer Behind the Scenes in Jakarta: Wiranto's Long History With Suharto

Indonesia is not a military dictatorship, but having a galaxy of stars on each shoulder has certainly helped its rulers in holding down the top job.

Sukarno, who declared independence from the Dutch in 1945 and 21 years later was deposed by a real soldier, liked wearing a uniform and sometimes styled himself a six-star general.

Suharto, his nemesis and president for as long as most Indonesians can remember, is a retired five-star general. And most of the troubled country's 200 million people assume their next leader will be an ex-soldier too.

With Mr. Suharto almost certain to bring down the curtain on a rule that has lasted 32 years, all eyes are turned to Wiranto, the urbane four-star general who now leads Indonesia's armed forces.

Wiranto, who has an undergraduate daughter at the University of Indonesia campus that has led the push to force Suharto out, was seen by students as an ally in what seems a successful attempt to force generational change.

Regarded by his men as both a true professional and a man aware of the demands of the time, General Wiranto would seem an obvious front-runner in the race to succeed Suharto.

He has fans aplenty. Admiral Joseph Prueher, who as commander of all US forces in the Pacific has 300,000 troops under his command, said earlier this month that Wiranto was doing a good job.

"I have a lot of personal admiration for the restraint Wiranto is showing," Prueher told Greg Sheridan of the newspaper The Australian.

But more than a few have wondered why Wiranto did not have the gumption to move on the beleaguered Suharto when the nation's capital was aflame.

They contrast his lack of action with the resolute approach of Suharto 32 years ago when he jumped into a leadership vacuum and went on to take the vacant presidency a few months later.

Under Suharto's rule, the military has taken on a strong role in politics. But the president has kept the military leadership loyal and off-balance to prevent any challenge to his authority. Still, the military may have a strong say in who replaces Suharto.

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