Indonesia president nominates air chief to replace controversial military head

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has nominated the chief of staff of the air force to be the new head of the armed forces (TNI), to replace a controversial general who is due to retire in April.

Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto has close ties to the president and was previously in charge of an air base in the city of Solo, on the island of Java, when Widodo was its mayor.

Since then, Tjahjanto has been promoted a number of times including to inspector general of the defense ministry and the president’s military secretary.

“Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto is considered capable and qualified to become TNI commander,” presidential spokesman Johan Budi told reporters on Monday after confirming the nomination.

The proposal had been sent to the parliament, which needs to approve it, he said.

Abdul Kharis Almasyhari, chairman of a parliamentary commission with oversight of defense and security, said the commission would do a “fit and proper” assessment of the nomination, which hopefully could be completed by a Dec. 14 recess.

The outgoing armed forces chef, General Gatot Nurmantyo, who will step down at the end of his term in April, has often courted controversy over what analysts see as his political ambitions.

He has been accused of whipping up nationalist sentiment by promoting the notion that Indonesia is besieged by “proxy wars” waged by foreign states looking to undermine it.

In October, Widodo said the armed forces should stay out of politics and ensure their loyalty was only to the state and the government - a statement many believed referred to Nurmantyo’s actions.

There has been speculation that Nurmantyo would seek to run for vice president or even president in 2019.

Nurmantyo has not confirmed any political ambitions. He told a briefing in October the military was “neutral in practical politics”.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel