Indonesia’s military resurgence
In recent months, Indonesia’s embattled President Joko Widowo has overseen a remarkable resurgence of military power over Indonesian society.
Beginning in 1999, the military had been eased out of its dual role of dwifungsi – safeguarding the country against both external and internal threat – but the military now is resuming it. It has agreements in place to distribute fertilizer to farmers, guard prisons, and assist the national anti-narcotics agency. Talks are underway to also give it a role assisting the Corruption Eradication Commission and the ministries of transportation and fisheries.
“I want the military to be involved more in humanitarian missions in the future,” the Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said earlier this month. The military even seems to be turning against civil society, conducting a nationwide campaign to tell Indonesia’s youth that Indonesian NGOs and civil society organizations could be vehicles for foreign interests.
Jokowi is allowing this resurgence because he knows he is not in a position to confront powerful institutions. He is a civilian president with no money and almost no experience or networks in national politics. He is a president who doesn’t even control his own political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known by its Indonesian initials, PDI-P. His main source of support, the Indonesian public, is only heard in elections, scheduled for every 5 years.
As he took up his precarious position as Indonesia’s new chief executive last October, Jokowi seems to have assessed that the biggest threats to his presidency were the very institutions that are supposed to safeguard security and democracy: the military, the police and political parties like the PDI-P. He immediately started making concessions to them, hoping these concessions would win him sufficient stability to push through reforms in other areas: tackling the oil mafia, the illegal logging industry, and foreign threats while improving the social security net. These concessions are Jokowi’s gamble.
In November 2014, Jokowi approved military plans to build two new army commands: one in Papua and the other in Sulawesi. His concessions to the military are an attempt to befriend an institution that has played a role in the early departures of two previous civilian presidents: Habibie in 1999 and Wahid in 2001.
These concessions are also an attempt to empower the military as a counterbalance to the increasingly arrogant police force. However one think tank has warned that the more the military extend their influence in civilian life, “The greater their political clout and the harder it will be to extract them, especially given that they are effectively immune from prosecution under civil law.”
Jokowi’s acquiescence to the military and police mirrors Megawati’s. During her four years as president from 2001 to 2004, she also made huge concessions to the military to help stabilize her presidency. And when Megawati established the Corruption Eradication Commission in 2003, she kept the police happy by appointing a crony former police officer, Taufiequrahman Ruki, as one of its leaders. To placate the police, Jokowi has brought Ruki back as a leader of the Corruption Eradication Commission in 2015. (READ: Will Indonesia’s anti-graft agency ever get its mojo back?)
No civilian president has ever served out a full 5-year term in Indonesia. Jokowi, by acquiescing to powerful institutions, may be the first. He is currently on track for a legacy of improved social services for the very poor, and that’s long overdue in Indonesia. But will Jokowi’s era of Megawati-inspired ‘stability’ only be achived through steps backwards in law enforcement, environmental protection, international relations and Indonesian democracy? – Rappler.com
Warren Doull (a pseudonym) has lived and worked extensively in Indonesia and Timor Leste, including for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2002.