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Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Briefing 135 / Asia

Indonesia: Averting Election Violence in Aceh

Election monitors should begin deployment to Aceh long before the 9 April election to deter intimidation.

I. Overview

In less than two months, on 9 April, Aceh will go to the polls to elect a governor and vice governor, as well as seventeen district heads and deputies. Despite rhetorical commitments on the part of all contenders to a peaceful election, the potential for isolated acts of violence between now and then is high; the potential for trouble after the results are announced may be even higher, especially if it is a close election. Getting as many trained monitors to Aceh as possible in the coming weeks is critical.

Whether violence materialises may depend on several factors:

  • the number of election monitors deployed and the speed with which they get to Aceh. The campaign is already well underway for all practical purposes, even though officially it does not begin until 22 March. The monitoring needs to start now, not days before the election;
  • the speed with which the police can identify and arrest the gunmen responsible for shootings in December 2011 and January 2012 that took the lives of ten men, most of them poor Javanese workers. The killings are widely believed to have been politically motivated;
  • the ability of the election oversight committee (Panitia Pengawas Pilkada) to investigate reported violations and quickly take action; and
  • the ability of leading candidates to control their supporters in the Aceh Transition Committee (Komite Pera­lihan Aceh, KPA), the organisation of former guerrilla commanders.

Partai Aceh, the local political party created by the leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Mer­deka, GAM), the former rebel group, has played on the threat of renewed conflict to get the election on its own terms. Its main goal was to have Irwandi Yusuf, who was elected governor in December 2006 and now seeks a second five-year term, forced from office so that he could not use his position to keep himself in the public eye, ensure funds flowed to his supporters or request the deployment of security forces in a way that might have a bearing on the election.

To this end, it engaged in a number of legal manoeuvres, on the pretext of safeguarding Acehnese autonomy and the integrity of the 2006 Law on the Governing of Aceh (Undang-Undang Pemerintahan Aceh), the legal underpinning of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that ended GAM’s 30-year insurgency against the Indonesian government. In particular, it challenged a Constitutional Court decision that annulled one provision of the law, thereby enabling independent (non-party) candidates to contest the elections originally scheduled for late 2011. Irwandi, based on the court’s ruling, intended to stand as an independent, and Partai Aceh was hoping to block him. The provincial parliament, which Partai Aceh controls, also refused to pass a regulation (qanun) on elections allowing independent candidates, a move that prevented the local election commission from scheduling the polls.

With the help of pressure from Jakarta and a series of killings in December and January that seemed to suggest a high potential for violence, the election was repeatedly postponed, from 10 October 2011 to 14 November to 24 December, then to 16 February 2012 and finally to 9 April. With the last change, Partai Aceh achieved its objective: on 8 February 2012, when his term expired, Irwandi stepped down as governor. The home affairs ministry appointed a caretaker, Tarmizi Karim, a native of North Aceh, who will serve until a newly elected governor is inaugurated.

The manoeuvring deepened a bitter divide between Irwandi and the Partai Aceh leadership under Malik Mahmud, GAM’s former “prime minister”. Their mutual antagonism first came to public attention in the run-up to the 2006 election in which Irwandi ran against Malik’s choice for governor and won. Its history goes back much further, however, to differences between the exiled diaspora, represented by Malik and the man who is now Partai Aceh’s candidate for governor, Zaini Abdullah, and GAM members like Irwandi who stayed behind in Aceh. The shootings in December and January have raised concerns that more violence between these two camps will follow.

Jakarta/Brussels, 29 February 2012

Op-Ed / Asia

Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia urgently needs a competent civilian body that can police the police and show that there are tangible consequences to refusal to enforce the law or in some cases, actively violate it.

Those with the authority to hold the police accountable, including the president, seem to lack the political will to do so; civil society groups appalled by police behavior have so far been unsuccessful in pressing for change. If Indonesian democracy is going to move forward, it is up to these groups to make a concerted effort to press the president and House of Representatives to bring a civilian oversight body into being.

The standoff with former chief detective Susno Duadji is a case in point. On April 24, West Java Police, together with a political party militia linked to a former justice minister, prevented prosecutors from taking Susno from his luxury house to prison after he lost all appeals against a bribery conviction. Susno was once head of the West Java command, one of the largest regional police units in Indonesia, and many officers there still owe their careers to him. It was clearly more important for top officers to protect the culture of patronage than to enforce the law.

This is not the first time the police have braved public scorn to protect one of their own. Last year, police blocked the anti-corruption commission from investigating the alleged corruption of Djoko Susilo, an active general who once led the lucrative traffic division. He is currently on trial after public uproar, presidential intervention and the discovery of a number of mansions under the names of his multiple wives.

Polls show high distrust of the police. Kompas newspaper last year found that 72.9 percent of respondents thought police would not touch the rich or powerful. In 2011, a survey by human rights group Imparsial revealed that 74.8 percent of those polled associated the police with corruption.

Why are the Indonesian police so tone-deaf to public opinion instead of working to build public trust?

Crisis Group analyzed this problem last year in a report titled The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing. One answer is that police see the post-1999 reforms in terms of structure, not institutional culture. The public may see reform in terms of increased competency, honesty and humanity. Those inside the institution are more focused on sustaining the new privileges, opportunities and powers that reform has brought about.

The 1999 divorce from the armed forces gave police authority over internal security after decades of playing junior partner to the army. But no thought was given to how this newly empowered force would be supervised. The 2002 police law gave it a direct reporting line to the president rather than placing it under a ministry and created a National Police Commission that ended up largely toothless because it can only provide advice to the president, rather than having powers to investigate, subpoena or censure. Since then,  attempts, including a 2007 draft of  the national security bill, to put police under the Home Affairs or Justice Ministry have hit the wall of entrenched police opposition that parliamentarians seem loathe to challenge.

Immune from external supervision that could hold wrongdoers accountable, the police can continue to distribute the increasing spoils of the reform without disruption. A reasonable livelihood is guaranteed as long as members are loyal to the internal norms. In the absence of credible performance-based reviews and an incentive structure that rewards professionalism and punishes incompetence, officers find that their promotions, educational opportunities and access to additional funds depend on relationships inside the force, especially with direct superiors. Deference trumps competence and initiative every time.

This does not mean that civil society should stop complaining about police shortcomings. Public pressure can make a difference. In October 2012, the police in Lampung failed to stop a deadly eruption of inter-ethnic violence when they should have anticipated trouble. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was slow to respond but in the face of public anger, the Lampung Police chief was forced to apologize and saw his scheduled promotion canceled.  Last month, when the Yogyakarta Police failed to protect murder suspects from being executed by soldiers in their cell, Yudhoyono again faced pressure to act, and the Yogyakarta Police chief was replaced. In both cases, the police denied that public uproar had sparked the decisions but events hinted otherwise.

Accountability must be institutionalized, however. It is insufficient to hope that media coverage and public advocacy will force a president to act or a police force effectively to control its own behavior. Indonesia must revisit the idea of a civilian oversight commission with real clout. This will require a new law, and public pressure could help bring it about. It may be the only way to ensure that reform means professionalism rather than patronage.