General Soeharto was president but no political party truly represented military interests. He considered an alliance with the retooled Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) or establishing a new party, before submitting to Brigadier General Ali Moertopo’s concept to transform the Army-run Joint Functional Groups Secretariat (Sekber Golkar) into a “non-party” staffed by serving military officers and partnered with the army territorial structure across the archipelago. The Army had created Sekber Golkar in October 1964 as an anti-communist umbrella organization to manage the more than 250 nationalist and anti-communist army-backed cooperation bodies, or functional groups, throughout Indonesian society. Sekber Golkar (formally shortened to Golkar after the 1971 elections) had no real purpose after the communist purge.

Ali Moertopo tasked Army Assistant for Functional Affairs Brigadier General Darjatmo and his deputy, Colonel Amir Murtono, to simplify the Sekber Golkar organization and restructure it into as a pseudo-government party. In November 1969, they divided the organization into seven Kino (Kelompok Induk Organisasi, Organizational Core Groups) aimed at competing in the elections. Military officers headed six of the seven Kino. Moertopo loyalist Major General Suprapto Sokowati assumed duties as Golkar General Chairman. Colonel Amir Murtono, an officer close to Kopkamtib Commander General Soemitro, had played a central role in the reorganization and took over as general chairman when Suprapto Sokowati suffered a heart attack and died after the 1973 presidential election. Murtono held the top Golkar post for more than a decade and was promoted to major general in that capacity.[1]

Golkar was meant to convey the impression it served national rather than parochial interests. It attracted support from conservative political elements, in particular Harry Tjan Silalahi’s Catholic Party and former officials from the defunct Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI). Harry Tjan and Ali Moertopo developed a master plan to empower Golkar and handicap the parties. Technically Golkar was not a party and was not subject to the restrictions on political parties. Soeharto appointed Jakarta Commander Major General “Bulldozer” Amirmachmud as Home Affairs Minister in January 1969, replacing Major General Basuki Rachmat who died from a heart attack on January 8. Soeharto posthumously promoted Basuki to full general and presided over his burial in the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery. Working closely with Ali Moertopo and picking up where fellow Supersemar architect Basuki Rachmat left off, Amirmachmud introduced regulations in December 1969 stipulating civil servants could not belong to any political party and were bound by “mono-loyalty” to the government.

Having grown from 250,000 in 1950 to 2.5 million in 1968, the civil service constituted a deep ocean of patronage. Government employees accounted for over one-quarter of the labor force in some towns. Over 23,000 civil servants and an additional 10,000 state corporation workers had been dismissed for leftist political affiliations between 1965 and 1967.[2] The mono-loyalty policy broke up traditional party influence in the civil service and was especially damaging to the PNI. Military members and Defense Ministry employees were also prohibited from party membership. Service members had been allowed to vote during the 1955 elections but that right was withheld throughout the New Order based on the military representation in Parliament and the MPR. Military leaders feared the political parties would promote factionalism and even conflict within the services if members were allowed to vote.

Following a 100 percent pay raise in December 1966, the government again doubled salaries for civil servants after the 1971 elections, at least partially to compensate for the unpopular mono-loyalty policy. Home Affairs Minister Amirmachmud worked to strengthen Golkar’s support base by establishing the Indonesian Civil Servants Corps (Karyawan Pegawai Republik Indonesia, Korpri) in late-1971, followed by the All-Indonesia Workers’ Federation (FBSI), the Cooperative Farmers Association and the All-Indonesia Fishers’ Association. Via Korpri and other employee groups, civil servants were encouraged to join Golkar. In practice, Amirmachmud and other government officials instructed civil servants to vote for Golkar during the election, while workplace voting procedures reinforced the pressure for government workers to support Golkar.[3]

Ali Moertopo and his government-backed think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), were the architects for the New Order Golkar-based political strategy – and Golkar quickly came to embody the Army’s evolving corporatist ideology. Golkar controlled three army-sponsored mass organizations. Brigadier General Suhardiman’s seven million-strong All-Indonesia Central Workers Organization (Sentral Organisasi Karyawan Socialis, Soksi) had broad support among state enterprise and plantation workers. The Army had established Soksi to compete with the similarly titled PKI labor organization, Sobsi. The two organizations had clashed during the period before the communist purges. Suhardiman had been responsible for Soksi since its inception.

Major General Mas Isman had been a Student Army leader in Surabaya during the Revolution. His five million-strong Mutual Help Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Koperasi Serba Guna Gotong Royong, Kosgoro) was a savings and investment collective originally founded for Student Army revolutionary veterans, later expanded to broader membership. Kosgoro invested in a wide range of enterprises – a bank, a film company, a travel agency, factories, nightclubs and agricultural ventures. Mas Isman unsuccessfully challenged Amir Murtono for Golkar chairmanship in 1978.[4]

The 3.5 million-strong Family Mutual Help Consensus (Musyawarah Kekeluargaan Gotong Royong, MKGR) was primarily a social and religious organization. Armed Forces Spokesman Brigadier General R.H. Sugandhi Kartosubroto was elected MKGR General Chairman in 1966. Major General Sugandhi’s wife, Mien Sugandhi, succeeded him as MKGR General Chairman after he died in July 1991 at age sixty-eight. Soeharto appointed Mien Sugandhi State Minister for Women’s Roles in the Sixth Development Cabinet. Kosgoro and MKGR’s primary support base was in East Java.

The three Golkar mass organizations and their chairmen were notoriously corrupt.[5] Through its extensive penetration of government and society, Golkar had access to virtually unlimited government revenues, both official and off-budget. It received large contributions from groups, organizations and individuals seeking favor with the New Order regime, making it a formidable patronage juggernaut. In particular, Golkar received tremendous cash infusions from Lieutenant General Ibnu Sutowo’s state oil company, Pertamina, and favored Chinese-Indonesian businessmen.

Ali Moertopo’s position on the General Election Commission (Badan Pengendalian Pemilihan Umum, Bapilu) provided a platform to distribute patronage at every level of government and society. Colonel Sapardjo was the nominal Bapilu Chairman but Ali Moertopo ran the election commission in close cooperation with Golkar and packed it with his mostly Diponegoro intelligence officers, Catholic intellectuals from CSIS and Chinese-Indonesian businessmen.[6] The government extended development subsidies to buy loyalty from local officials and village heads. Muslim leaders were lured to endorse Golkar through offers of money, trips to Mecca, seats in Parliament, and donations for mosques and religious schools.

The Golkar ideology was identical to the New Order mantra – development, stability and unity. Golkar officials promised “accelerated modernization” and blamed divisive political party ideologies for the lack of development. It was a message that resonated with many. Modernist Muslims considered Golkar to be anti-Islamic because to was dominated by the Army, abangan Javanese, Catholic intellectuals and Chinese-Indonesian businessmen. The Javanese abangan influence was reflected in Golkar’s rituals and symbols, its use of the banyan tree (an important symbol in Javanese mysticism) as its emblem and Sanskrit words in its slogans and doctrine. Golkar had eight chairmen, seventeen central executive board members, four secretaries and five field secretaries, said to symbolize the August 17, 1945 Independence Proclamation. Other sacred numbers in Javanese superstition were also represented in Golkar organization, slogans and titles.[7]

While Bahasa Indonesia is the state language and a unifying force, Javanese and Sanskrit words – with their ancient Hindu roots – continue to be widely used in official titles, organizational mottoes and the names for foundations, businesses, buildings and official state programs, doctrines and ideologies. The practice dates to the colonial era and early independence years, but was expanded and reinforced during the New Order. Not only was it another manifestation of the Javanese cultural hegemony over the outer islands, but tended to exacerbate tensions between conservative Islam and Hinduized Javanese mystical beliefs. Ali Moertopo and Soedjono Hoemardani sponsored a conference in Jakarta during December 1970, bringing together representatives from forty-three mystical Javanese sects, initiating a controversial government drive to recognize Javanese kejawen or kebatinan mysticism as an official religion.

Soeharto tacitly supported the kejawen movement. Central Java, where he and most of his army friends were from, was immersed in Java’s deep mystical currents to a greater extent than other regions – and Diponegoro Division reflected those influences. Kejawen influences were reflected in the impenetrable Javanese-language Diponegoro Division motto – “If the Demon has Disappeared, the Gate to the King’s Palace is Visible” (Sirnaning Jakso Kraton Gapuraning Ratu) – in pointed contrast to the more conventional military sentiments in the West Java Siliwangi Division – “One Disappears, Two More Come” (Esa Hilang, Dua Terbilang) – and the East Java Brawijaya Division – “Courageous but Humble” (Birawa Anoraga). Moreover, the titles for all four Diponegoro resort commands – Wijayakusuma (Purwokerto), Pamungkas (Yogyakarta), Makutarama (Salatiga) and Warasastrama (Surakarta) – were all drawn from the wayang stories.

Soeharto’s predecessor at Diponegoro, Colonel Muchammad Bachrun, was an active Muhammadiyah member and discouraged superstitious kejawen practices among subordinates.[8] Javanese spiritual practices were more open and accepted by Soeharto and his successors through the early-1970s – Pranoto, Sarbini, Suryosumpeno, Soerono and Widodo – all who were at least to some extent influenced by Javanese mysticism. ‘Soedjono [Hoemardani] found it personally objectionable to be compelled to list Islam as his religion. Before the 1970 census, he had campaigned behind the scenes to have the census offer the populace the choice of identifying their religion as “Islam-abangan,” a designation that suggested one adhered to Islamic principles and Javanese mystical beliefs as well. It was thought that this would dramatically reduce the recorded number of adherents to an unadulterated Islam, and would make possible a reduction in the scale of government subsidies to mosques, Islamic schools, and other institutions.[9]

Despite abundant structural advantages, Soeharto and army leaders worked steadily and patiently to co-opt party leaders and undermine their autonomy. Even before President Sukarno was ousted, the Army initiated efforts to purge dissidents from the political parties and install leaders who would be more cooperative with the New Order security and development agenda. Yet, in contrast to the radicals, Soeharto and his advisors believed the party system could be salvaged and exploited to serve New Order interests. By playing a divide-and-rule game with opportunistic politicians, they could advance development and stability goals while marginalizing the parties. Ali Moertopo and his Opsus men worked their magic through graft and intimidation. The New Order insider cynically declared, “Now days some people talk as if civilians are in decline because they have been pushed aside by the Armed Forces, as if they are oppressed. They forget that they have had all the opportunities since the transfer of sovereignty in 1949 to 1966, and we are all familiar with their general failure.”[10]

The New Order radicals had called for the PNI to be banned due to its continued left wing and Sukarnoist influences. Local commanders in Sumatra and East Java suspended PNI activities in their territories. The government maintained a retooled PNI was acceptable if it purged Old Order residues. (The different perspectives toward the PNI fueled tensions between the radicals and Soeharto.) The student action fronts and Siliwangi troops secured the April 1966 PNI Congress in Bandung, while Soeharto’s men engineered the overthrow of Sukarnoist PNI Chairman and former Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjoyo. Ali Moertopo and his goons used strong arm tactics and applied relentless pressure on PNI representatives. In the end, they replaced Sastroamidjoyo with the “mild and flexible” Osa Maliki Wanggadinata from the party’s minority anti-communist wing. When Maliki died from a heart attack in September 1969, fellow anti-communist Hardi, a lawyer who had been deputy prime minister in the Djuanda Cabinet from 1957 to 1959, became acting party chairman. Hardi was not so accommodative; he challenged the Army’s Dual Function and Tri Ubaya Cakti doctrines, and protested the unfair election laws and arbitrary restrictions on political activities.

During the April 1970 PNI Congress, Soedjono Hoemardani, Ali Moertopo and their Opsus men once again liberally bribed and intimidated PNI delegates, while publicly endorsing Central Java PNI Chairman Hadisubeno Sosrowerdoyo, the former Semarang Mayor and Soeharto’s old associate. The government had stipulated the party congress be held in Semarang (Hadisubeno’s home town) and openly bullied the representatives. Moertopo set up an Opsus command post near the conference hall, where he and his minions “entertained” a steady stream of delegates, employing “a mixture of coercion and cajolery.” Moertopo threatened to ban the PNI if Hadisubeno was not elected. Some who refused to cooperate were arrested. In the end, nearly all delegates supported Hadisubeno. Opsus channeled financial support to cooperative party members through the PNI-run Bank Umum Nasional and saved the bank from insolvency with emergency loans.[11]

Hadisubeno called for cooperation between the PNI and the Army to support Pancasila Democracy, but he too proved stubbornly independent. He refused to capitulate to Soeharto’s thugs and became stridently critical of unfair government tactics, declaring in December 1970, “In the past, I was Sukarno’s lackey and now I am Suharto’s lackey.”[12] Later he exclaimed, “Ten Suhartos, ten Nasutions and a cartload of generals don’t add up to one Sukarno.”[13] Like Osa Maliki, Hadisubeno collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack in late-April 1971, leaving the party rudderless just two months before parliamentary elections. Authorities prevented the PNI from drafting Sukarno’s eldest son, Guntur Sukarnoputra, and prohibited commemorating the first anniversary of Sukarno’s death on June 21, 1971. Through policies of bribery, persuasion, intimidation and bullying, Golkar effectively dominated the 1971 national election and every election thereafter throughout Soreharto’s thirty-two-year New Order.


[1] Leo Suryadinata, Military Ascendancy and Political Culture: A Study of Indonesia’s Golkar (Athens: Ohio University, 1989), p. 24.

[2] Nawaz Mody, Indonesia under Suharto: A Study in the Concentration of Power (New York: Apt Books, 1987), pp. 215-216.

[3] R. E. Elson, Suharto: A Political Biography (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 191.

[4] Suryadinata, Military Ascendancy, pp. 13-14. Mas Isman died in December 1982 at age fifty-seven.

[5] Jusuf Wanandi, Shades of Grey: A Political Memoir of Modern Indonesia, 1965-1998 (Jakarta: Equinox Publishing, 2012), p. 104.

[6] Suryadinata, Military Ascendancy, pp. 27-38. Sapardjo retired as a major general and served as Social Affairs Minister in Soeharto’s Third Development Cabinet from 1978 to 1983.

[7] Ibid, pp. 58-59.

[8] Peter Britton, Profesionalisme dan Ideologi Militer Indonesia (Jakarta: LP3ES, 1996), p. 150.

[9] John Bresnan, Managing Indonesia: the Modern Political Economy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 196.

[10] Ali Moertopo, Strategi Pembangunan Nasional (Jakarta: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1981), p. 255, translation from Salim Said, Legitimizing Military Rule: Indonesian Armed Forces Ideology, 1958-2000 (Jakarta: Pustaka Sinar Harapan, 2006), p. 108.

[11] Harold Crouch, The Army and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), p. 259.

[12] Cited in Mody, Indonesia under Suharto, p. 249.

[13] Cited in Crouch, The Army and Politics, p. 269.

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