Military Ambition In Indonesia – Analysis

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Heading into the 2014 election, Indonesian society is being faced with certain political figures, ranging from businessmen and office holders, to military background figures. However, given many election surveys, two prominent figures have emerged as the most likely to be the next Indonesian president, namely Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto. Joko Widodo, affectionately known as Jokowi, is Jakarta’s current governor, whereas Prabowo is the chief patron of the Greatest Indonesian Movement Party (Gerindra) as well as a former general of the late President Suharto. Recently, Jokowi has been announced as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) candidate. Thus, the governor Jokowi and former military general, Prabowo will likely dominate the Indonesian political landscape prior to presidential election in September 2014.

After 15 years of democratic consolidation, the big inquiry is whether Indonesia still needs the military style leadership. In the last three general elections, the military candidates have always been involved to run for office. The current president is the former Suharto general who has been in office for two terms.

In this 2014 election, at least two former generals have announced their candidacies beside Prabowo, namely former Indonesian military commander Wiranto supported by his party, the Peoples Conscience Party (Hanura) and Sutiyoso, retired army lieutenant general cum Chairman of the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI). The ruling party, Democrat, also is presenting former army chief of staff Pramono Edhie Wibowo as one of its presidential candidates. All of these generals, except Pramono Edhie, served during Suharto’s waning days. And these three generals are also widely believed to have been involved in human rights violations.

Ironically, on the one hand, Indonesian society is hoping to have clean and good leaders, such as Jokowi and Tri Rismaharini, the Surabaya Mayor.

On the other hand, as a recent survey shows, many Indonesian voters still prefer a presidential or vice presidential candidate with a military background over a civilian. Three characteristics have been advanced for this preference, namely decisiveness, discipline and firmness. This tendency exemplifies the romance of the Suharto-backed military regime among Indonesians.

The military in Indonesia has two prominent reasons why they have to meddle in daily political life. First, the Indonesian military (TNI) still criticizes the current democratic system. As attributed by Indonesia’s army strategic command head, Lieutenant General Gatot Nurmayanto, Indonesian democracy is not always right for Indonesia. Accordingly, democracy based on popular vote does not always lead to the strengthening of the nation.

For some political analysts, this is the picture of a hard-line faction within the TNI to push for more military involvement in Indonesia’s daily politics.

Second, the TNI has doubted the ability of civilian government to govern. Corruption and immorality have become chronic diseases in the civilian government. As a result, certain political regulations can risk national stabilization, such as the current dispute over the legitimacy of Law No. 42/2008 on presidential and vice presidential elections. As former army intelligence head, Soleman B. Ponto argues, the potential of national chaos is high, given that the law was dismissed by the constitutional court in January 2014. If national chaos develops, the military will launch what Ponto calls a “constitutional coup”.

In addition, during my personal interview in 2012 with former Vice Chief Staff of Army, retired Major General Kiki Syanahkri, he expressed the same concern. He thought that the quality degradation of civilian government and intended to take political steps necessary to return to the original version of the 1945 constitution. To support his idea, Kiki and his colleges in the Retired Army Association (PPAD), proposed to form a “national council”. This would allow the military to legitimately engage directly in politics. These statements raise the question about the military’s relentless tendency to take any opportunity to influence or even to take over the civilian government.

Democracy allows for every individual, regardless of their background, to run for office. However, after the downfall of authoritarian regime and the beginning of democratic consolidation, the remnants of a former authoritarian regime, including the military, should be restricted from participating in politics. The former regime was highly backed up by the military in Indonesia during the new order period for over 30 years. This history can give the military the desire to re-engage in the new political system. If it does, there is high possibility for the military to bring back an authoritarian spirit, such as in Egypt and Thailand.

According to the Indonesian constitution, military figures can run for office after resigning from active duty. However, the close relations between former officers and active officers are difficult to overlook. Former officers support the core interests of their institution. This again brings up the question of the future of the TNI reformation that has stalled during the second term of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Three crucial areas of the TNI’s internal reform could be “blocked” by former senior officers if they get elected.

First and foremost is the uplifting of human rights values among officers. The TNI has been globally known for its human rights record toward its own people. The military internal reformation failed to deal with this issue, particularly in Papua province. The military candidates are likely to defend their former institution. For instance, the prison raid by army special forces (Kopassus) that killed four detainees in Cebongan, drew support and even praise from Prabowo and other former generals, including SBY. In addition, Pramono Edhie Wibowo recently called to forget past violations of human rights conducted by the TNI.

The second area of army reform which might be left undone is the reorganization or even liquidation of some army territorial commands across country. Many territorial commands at the regional level have been widely alleged to be used for political and economic purposes. As a leading general during the early days of TNI’s reformation, Wiranto supported and defended the existence of the commands. In present day, there are no military candidates have questioned these commands in light of charges of misuse for political purpose and human rights violations.

The third area of military reform needed is the management of its businesses, particularly the illegal ones, such as illegal logging, gambling, and the security business. It seems hard to tackle this issue if some former generals get elected in September, given the fact that the military still highly depends on these off-budget resources.

Given the uncertainty at the national level, Indonesian democracy will arguably allow the military figures to continue their role as decisive political actors as happened during the new order. In contrast, after the era of strong military regimes, certain Latin America countries have produced many strong populist leaders, such as Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentine and Evo Morales in Bolivia. These figures can restrict constitutionally military ambition in their countries. They can channel effectively people’s aspirations to support government policies, instead of paving the way to the military to get its second opportunity to govern.

Indonesian politics has never gotten out from under military influence, and certain populist leaders, such as Jokowi and Risma, also appear to rely on military support. As a result, the future of the Indonesian democratic system remains uncertain.

Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi is a visiting scholar in the Equality Development and Globalization Studies at the BCICS, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the US.
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