Subject: AT: Power-hungry military overshadows Indonesia

Asia Times

Jul 28, 2004

Southeast Asia

Power-hungry military overshadows Indonesia By Richel Langit

JAKARTA - Indonesia's fledging democracy has come under threat as the country's power-hungry military is seeking to regain its old powers lost to reform movements since 1998.

In the Indonesian military bill submitted to the House of Representatives (DPR) for deliberations recently, the military (known as the TNI) seeks to revive its territorial command, reintroduce its dual functions and limit the president's authority over the institution to approving troop deployment for war and civic services only.

The DPR is planning to start deliberating on the bill early next week and has promised to endorse it on September 30, just one day before the new members of the DPR elected in the April 5 legislative elections are to take their oaths of office. This means the DPR will have only 45 days to deliberate on the bill, which, if passed, will seriously undermine civilian supremacy and jeopardize the country's young and fragile democracy.

That the DPR insists on deliberating on and endorsing the bill now suggests that the military is out to fight for what it wants. The military and police will leave the DPR by the end of September and the DPR has agreed to endorse the bill around that time. The military clearly wants to participate in the deliberation and ensure that its demands - territorial function and dual role, among others - are accommodated in the bill.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has thrown its backing behind the bill, despite all of its flaws. Fears are rising that PDI-P, which badly needs the military's support to win the September 20 runoff election, will support the bill all the way to its endorsement in order to win the military's backing in the election. PDI-P is the biggest faction in the DPR; it and the military together hold 191 seats in the 500-member DPR. But with anti-military feelings subsiding, the people at large will likely pay little attention to the deliberations of the bill.

After the downfall of authoritarian leader Suharto in May 1998, the powerful military embarked on a series of internal reforms largely aimed at forming a strong, professional military force deemed necessary to guard the world's largest archipelagic country. This return-to-barracks policy requires the military to abstain from practical politics and forces the institution to abandon its territorial command - which in practice means deploying troops down to the regency level - and dual functions, defense and socio-political roles.

In 2002 the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country's highest legislative body, decided to end the presence of military and police personnel in both the DPR and the MPR by 2004 and 2009, respectively. Therefore, as current DPR members end their tenure on September 30, the military and police will also officially quit the DPR on that day.

The military, which undoubtedly remains the country's strongest political entity, earned praise and respect in the April 5 legislative elections and the July 5 presidential elections as its personnel stayed largely neutral throughout the democratic process, despite the fact that three retired army generals contested in the presidential poll.

But the military's attempts to revive territorial command and to reintroduce its dual functions have put into serious question its commitment to reforms as well as the democratization process in the world's largest Muslim country.

The military's proposal to regain its old powers also reveals its ignorance, because it goes against MPR decree No 6/2001, which limits the military's role to safeguarding the country from external attacks, while leaving the police in charge of national-security issues.

It has become public knowledge that Suharto introduced the military's territorial function in the late 1960s as part of his efforts to control the political life of the people down to the village level. During his 32 years of leadership, military personnel spied over movements and activities of the public at large, especially those critical to government policies, in the name of political stability and economic growth. Many government critics were arrested and put behind bars on charges of inciting the people to rise up against the Suharto government.

The bill, which was drafted by the Ministry of Defense, also reintroduces the military's dual functions, which justified the military's involvement in practical politics during Suharto's reign. Under the doctrine, Suharto, a retired army general, mobilized military personnel to cow people into supporting his political bandwagon Golkar for more than three decades. In return, Suharto provided seats in both the MPR and the DPR for both the military and the police. Currently, the military and police have 38 seats in both the MPR and the DPR, despite the fact they do not participate in elections.

The dual functions also allowed active military personnel to take up civilian posts in the bureaucracy and other high state institutions. Very often active military officers were appointed governors and regents or secretaries general and other high-ranking offices in government departments or other high state institutions.

The dual functions, however, came to an abrupt end after the downfall of Suharto in May 1998, thanks to strong public demand for the military to concentrate on defense issues and leave politics to civilians. Active officers holding civilian positions were told to return or resign from the military service. Surprisingly, most of them opted to leave the service.

In addition to its requests for the return of old powers, the TNI bill also aims to limit the authority of the president over the military to approving troop deployment for war, leaving deployment for other purposes, including quelling social unrest and secessionist movements, under the authority of the military chief. Under its original version released last year, the military was even authorized to declare a state of emergency in certain areas and deploy troops there without necessarily asking for approval from the president. This clearly contradicts prevailing laws that position the president as the supreme commander of the country's military force.

During a presidential debate held before the July 5 elections, front-runners Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri gave no clear answers to questions related to the military's future political roles. Given the fact that Yudhoyono is a retired army general and Megawati has turned a blind eye to the draft, the two are likely to offer political concessions to the military, especially if the compromises will help them win the September 20 runoff elections.

With the DPR already setting the endorsement date on September 30, pro-democracy activists are worried that horse-trading will mark the bill's deliberations. The legislators insist on completing the TNI bill before the current DPR tenure expires, to give legislators from the military an opportunity to participate in the deliberation.

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