Indonesia leader proposes loyalist as military chief

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JAKARTA, Nov 28 (Reuters) Indonesia's president has nominated an army general seen as a close ally to head the armed forces, in a move some observers say will ensure the support of the powerful military in the run-up to 2009 elections.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has submitted the nomination of General Djoko Santoso, the army chief of staff, to parliament, according to Theo Sambuaga, chairman of the defence and foreign affairs commission in the House of Representatives.

Parliament will decide whether to approve the nomination to replace retiring Air Marshal Djoko Suyanto as commander of the armed forces (TNI) next week, Sambuaga said.

The selection of Santoso by Yudhoyono, a former general who is often known by his initials SBY, may help his own chances of re-election.

''Djoko Santoso is a safe bet for SBY,'' said Al Araf, a fellow at the Defence Studies Department of the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Under former President Suharto, a general who rose to power in an anti-communist coup and whose autocratic rule lasted 32 years, the military had a prominent political role, with a fixed quota of seats in Indonesia's parliament.

BUSINESS VENTURES Since Suharto's downfall amid mass civil unrest in 1998, the military's political power has been clipped and it has come under pressure to abandon its lucrative business ventures and account for alleged past abuses.

''Even though the TNI has been out of politics it remains seen as a major political force and Yudhoyono needs to place someone close to him in that strategic post,'' Araf said.

Under Suharto, the post of armed forces commander was traditionally held by an army general.

Based on a rotation system introduced as part of military reform, the navy was next in line for the job, but Yudhoyono instead opted for Santoso, who graduated from the national military academy in 1975.

Santoso started his career in military intelligence and has served in various important posts, including commander of a regional garrison overseeing the restive Maluku islands.

The general, who has a master's degree in management, has not been tainted by allegations of rights abuses, and though not regarded as a reformer, he is seen as a professional officer.

Heriyadi Wirawan, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia's International Studies programme, said Yudhoyono viewed Santoso as the most capable man to ensure that the 2009 elections go smoothly.

''He will only have chances of re-election if security is favourable and for that purpose he cannot choose someone weak or potentially disloyal to be in charge,'' he said.

Yudhoyono won Indonesia's first direct presidential election in 2004 on reform pledges.

But human rights groups say there has been little progress in efforts to clamp down on military business activities, which can sometimes lead to human rights abuses because of disagreements with local communities over mining and timber rights.

REUTERS PD KN1555

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