Kivlan Zen: Mastermind of Jakarta Riots?

For the key figure behind the violence that shook Indonesia in the aftermath of April presidential elections, look no further than retired Indonesian Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zen (above), the 72-year-old former chief of the Army Strategic Reserve and close confidant to the losing candidate, Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo, a former commander of the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and the Army Strategic Reserve, known as Kostrad, lost for the second time against the incumbent Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi. The latest defeat sparked riots allegedly fomented by Prabowo’s team in front of the Election Supervisory Agencies (Bawaslu) office on May 21-22 which killed nine people and injured hundreds more.

Immediately after the incident, police arrested several people including Kivlan who were suspected of involvement in treason, illegal possession of weapons and the assassination plot.

Police accused Kivlan of giving Rp150 million (US$10,500) to his subordinate Iwan to purchase weapons to execute close allies of Jokowi including coordinating ministers Wiranto and Luhut Panjaitan, national intelligence director Budi Gunawan and presidential intelligence advisor Gories Mere.

Kivlan is alleged by police to have ordered another suspect named Irfansyah to stalk and execute Yunarto Wijaya, the leader of the survey institute Charta Politika, Yunarto Wijaya. Funds for the purchase of illegal weapons were later known to have been supplied by a businessman and politician from the United Development Party, Habil Marati.

The June 10 issue of Tempo Magazine reported that Iwan confessed that he had been told by Kivlan to prepare guns to shoot dead Wiranto and Luhut. "They have troubled us and betrayed the army," Kivlan reportedly told Iwan. "Just hearing the name of the target, I immediately had convulsions," Iwan said.

Kivlan's Attorney Muhammad Yuntri denied all police allegations. Based on information from Kivlan, he said, the four figures who actually wanted to kill Kivlan. "Iwan came to Mr. Kivlan to tell that he (Kivlan) would be killed by those four people," Yuntri said. Kivlan, he said, did ask Iwan to find weapons, not to kill humans but rather to hunt wild boars that roamed around his house.

The Rp150 million given by Kivlan to Iwan was instead to be used for demonstrations to commemorate the March 11 Indonesian Presidential Executive Order (Supersemar), the lawyer said.

Kivlan and PKI Rumors

Kivlan is a particular Javanese mystic who is said to have prayed with djinns, or genies, at the grave of the strongman Suharto, whom he served as a soldier, graduation from the Military Academy in 1971 and retiring in 2001 after serving as Kostrad's chief of staff.

He was active in Indonesian Islamic Students (PII) when he was in school and became Secretary of the Islamic Student Association (HMI) while studying at the Faculty of Medicine, Indonesian Islamic University (1965-1968). The two Islamic organs in the 1960s were known as enemies of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Tempo Magazine reported in 2008 that Kivlan believed in occult matters and ancient predictions about Indonesian leaders. Kivlan, who was born in Aceh, believed his spiritual teacher who predicted that the Indonesian president for 2009-2014 period would not be Javanese and that he met that criteria. But the forecast missed, with Javanese President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reelected.

After the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, Kivlan continued to emerge as one of the leading figures in the movement against the narrative of the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI. He has often warned that the PKI, which Suharto had dissolved in March 1966, had risen again with more than 15 million members and had organized in various regions.

Over the past five years, Kivlan has pushed those allegations repeatedly, particularly at a government-sponsored symposium in 2016 aimed at seeking answers for the 1966 massacre and torture of tens of thousands of PKI members, allegedly carried out by Suharto's army. Kivlan is one of several army members who rejected the allegations.

The symposium was held by the Presidential Advisory Board and the Coordinating Office for Politics, Law and Security, which was led by Luhut Panjaitan. Kivlan at that time accused Luhut of facilitating the rise of the PKI.

At the end of 2018, ahead of the 2019 presidential election, Kivlan again alleged that as many as 15 million communists would vote for Jokowi in the presidential election. The accusation was denied.

Earlier, he accused the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) of supporting the rise of the PKI after it organized an event to commemorate the dissolution of that party. Hundreds surrounded and rioted outside the agency's Jakarta office in Jakarta. The foundation accused Kivlan of mobilizing the mob.

Kivlan and Prabowo

Kivlan was Prabowo's senior at the military academy in Magelang, Central Java, in the 1970s and was Prabowo’s subordinate when the latter served as Kostrad's chief of staff. He has regularly been at the forefront of Prabowo’s defenders.

In 2014, he defended Prabowo over allegations that Prabowo had been responsible for the disappearance of 13 pro-democracy activists who were kidnapped around 1997-1998 and are still missing. He led denials that Prabowo had ordered Kopassus Group 4 operators, known as Team Rose, to kidnap and kill activists, and said Prabowo had no plans to overthrow the government led by BJ Habibie, Suharto's successor.

That goes against a decision issued by the Officer Honorary Board (DKP) formed by Army Commander General (Ret.) Wiranto to investigate the 1998 kidnapping of activists, Prabowo was proven to have been involved in the kidnappings, which led to his dismissal as the Kostrad commander. Kivlan laid the dismissal to Wiranto.

"When Prabowo was dismissed (as Pangkostrad), he was hurt by Wiranto because he felt he did not kidnap and did not want to carry out a coup in 1998," said Kivlan in Jakarta in May 2014 as quoted by An unclassified document issued by the US Embassy corroborates allegations that Prabowo ordered the kidnapping on Suharto's orders.

Leading demonstrations in Jakarta on May 5, Kivlan accused former President Yudhoyono (SBY) of being out to block Prabowo from becoming president. "He does not want any other general to be president. He wants himself and he is a cunning person," said Kivlan, who sparked debate with SBY's loyalists in the Democratic Party (PD) including Andi Arief.

The statement came after a meeting between SBY's son Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and Jokowi, which observers saw as an effort by the Democrats to secure Agus a cabinet position. Although the Democrats joined the Prabowo election effort, SBY had almost no role in the campaign, partly because his wife was dying, but also because he was reportedly disappointed that Prabowo chose businessman Sandiaga Uno instead of Agus as his vice presidential candidate.

Disputes between Prabowo's loyalists and the Democrats worsened their relations, which paved the way for the Democrats to quit the coalition. In the middle of the election chaos SBY threw his support to Jokowi.

Kivlan’s associations with Wiranto led to an argument at a meeting in Jakarta in early May regarding allegations that Wiranto was the mastermind behind the 1998 riots, an issue that he has repeated every presidential election. Kivlan also claimed that Wiranto had ordered him to form an armed civilian militia known as the Security Forces (PAM) Swakarsa, to stem student action in 1998.

Wiranto on various occasions has denied Kivlan's accusations. In February, he challenged Kivlan and Prabowo to prove he had masterminded the May 1998 riots by swearing a 'pocong oath,' a ceremonial performance of an oath on one's own life.

Competition between Prabowo-Kivlan and Wiranto-Luhut happened when they were still soldiers. Kivlan was known to be on Prabowo's side when he was at odds with General Benny Murdani, who commanded the Indonesian Military in 1983-1988, while Wiranto and Luhut had close relations with Murdani.

Despite these controversies, Kivlan has made several achievements, including successfully leading the Garuda Contingent XVII to help resolve the Moro conflict in the Southern Philippines in the 1990s. Because of this experience, Kivlan took part in the release of 18 Indonesians held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines in 2016.

Dream of Being a President

In June 2008, as his soothsayer had advocated, Kivlan declared himself a presidential candidate for the period 2009-2014 with the mission of encouraging agricultural and renewable energy development. He said he would compete strongly against other presidential candidates, including those from the military.

"If there are four-star generals (as presidential candidates) like Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Wiranto, while three-star generals are Sutiyoso and Prabowo Subianto, then for two-star general there is Kivlan Zen," he was quoted as saying by the state-owned news service Antara. It was not to be. His ambitions instead have led him into the dock.