Measuring Military Reform in Post-Reformation Indonesia

Members of the Indonesian special forces group Kopassus march during a rehearsal for a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the country's military in Cilegon, Banten, in this October 2015 file photo. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

By : Teuku Reza Fadeli | on 9:14 PM January 24, 2017
Category : Opinion, Commentary

Indonesia has recently faced a variety of issues related to national security, from public disputes to terrorism. In this case, the military is in charge in many ways, directly or not. This development, or dynamic raises a chimera for some elements to restore the power of the military to intervene in politics and replace the incumbent president.

One of the most important issues for the military however, is "pretention" to regain their right to vote in the elections. As expressed by the head of Indonesian Military (TNI) in a hearing at the House of Representatives, "…all active personnel should be able to exercise their right to vote."

The statement at least suggests that there is a desire for the Indonesian Military to go back into the civilian sphere, as well as affect the military's involvement in politics and business, which has been curtailed after 1998. One interesting thing to be explored is the extent to which the success of military reform in post-New Order Indonesia.

The demise of the New Order brought a new model of military involvement in Indonesian politics. The reform of military roles and positions in Indonesia is divided into two parts. The first phase can be identified by the presence of the "New Paradigm" under the Habibie administration.

This consisted of four points: The military was content not to be at the forefront of all national affairs; the previous approach of occupying was changed into influencing; this influence was to be exerted indirectly rather than directly, and the armed forces acknowledged the necessity for role-sharing with other national forces.

Although this concept is not considered new, it is a major step in the reform of the TNI.

The dramatic change after 1998 was also marked by a reduction in the size of the military by nearly 50 percent through parliamentary legislation. It was a viewed as successful in depoliticizing the military. Nevertheless, this concept has failed to abolish the ideology of dwifungsi, which was one of the main demands of the Reformasi.

In 2004, the House of Representatives successfully completed and passed Law No. 34 on the TNI. This became a firm legal basis for the separation of the military from the national political stage.

The key points of the law involve a military are under the coordination of the Ministry of Defense (in defense policy and strategy as well as administrative support) and the TNI is an instrument of the state in the field of defense and in carrying out its duties under the policies and political decisions of the country.

However, military involvement in politics is inextricably linked to their participation in business, while the Reformasi demands that the military stays out of it.

Indonesian Corruption Watch offers at least three arguments why the military should be out of business activities. First, the freedom of expression enjoyed by the military in a way to have an independent source of funds has weakened the ability of national governments to set goals and achieve it.

Second, the time and energy consumed by the military to organize and carry out its business activities distracts officers, soldiers and employees from their formal state functions, namely to defend the country against external threats and strengthen domestic security.

Third, military business activities create distortions in the national economy by inhibiting growth, lowering productivity, and misallocating scarce resources.

There were 1,335 military businesses in Indonesia in 1998, and the number only declined by 182 by 2008, according to figures cited by Mietzner and Mosil in 2013.

The remaining military enterprises show that the TNI still has many informal business activities The elimination of military involvement in business is one of the most important requirements for reform.

Two new regional military commands were established by decree on Oct. 10, 2016. This can be interpreted as the beginning of the recovery of political strength while also meeting the tactical interests of the TNI, although this can also aim to accommodate security issues.

Thus, the new military commands may also provide new positions for those members of the military who, since the Reformasi, lost many posts, consequently providing new wealth-creation opportunities for them, mostly in informal businesses.

Reflecting on the situation in Myanmar under a military regime, Indonesia can experience a similar situation at any time. If the military returns to politics, reform efforts that have been pursued since 1998 will all be in vain.

In view of such uncertain conditions, it is possible that the Army can push President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to use military strength in defusing the crisis and it may lead to a military revival. What should be considered however, is how the military will consolidate and mobilize the masses in present-day Indonesia.

In short, the military's involvement in politics will easily provide a road for it to be further involved in formal business. It is clear that Indonesia's future however, will be significantly brighter if the military was more professional.

Teuku Reza Fadeli is an associate lecturer at the University of Indonesia.

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