Indonesia: Keeping the Military Under Control
Indonesia: Keeping the Military Under Control
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report / Asia 4 minutes

Indonesia: Keeping the Military Under Control

There has been since the fall of Soeharto’s New Order in May 1998 a drastic decline in the political influence of the military.

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Executive Summary

There has been since the fall of Soeharto's New Order in May 1998 a drastic decline in the political influence of the military. It no longer exercises a dominant influence over the government, and at present is in no position to regain political power. However, the full consolidation of democracy will require the dissolution, or at least drastic re-orientation, of the territorial network, the civilianisation of the domestic intelligence agencies, the regularisation of military finances, and the establishment of military cohesion and discipline. It will also require the formulation of an unambiguous doctrine supporting civilian supremacy.

This process of bringing the military under control was in train under President Habibie: the military's representation in the national and regional legislatures was reduced, active officers were prohibited from being elected or appointed to positions in the civilian government, the military adopted a stance of neutrality between political parties, and the police were separated from the armed forces.

Civilian control of the government was consolidated by President Abdurrahman Wahid after his election in October 1999. The decisive moment was in February 2000 when he in effect dismissed General Wiranto from his Cabinet after Wiranto was named in an official report as being among those responsible for human-rights violations in East Timor during 1999. That the president had established his authority was indicated by the virtual absence of reaction from the military when the military 'strong-man' of only four months earlier was forced out of the government. During the first months of the Abdurrahman presidency the military leadership formally abandoned the Dwifungsi (Dual Function) doctrine that had guided their political involvement during the Soeharto era.

Although the military no longer plays a decisive role in the government, its withdrawal from participation in day-to-day politics has proceeded at an uneven pace and is not yet complete. Military officers continue to be involved in some political activities carried over from the Soeharto era, including holding seats in the legislatures. The appointed military representatives are only due to leave the national and regional parliaments in 2004 and the People's Consultative Assembly in 2009. And the Indonesian National Military (TNI) retains other resources through which it can still exert political influence:

  • Through its territorial structure, the army maintains military units in every province, district and sub-district throughout Indonesia, which provides it with the means to influence political developments at every level of government.
  • The military, especially the army, is still strongly represented in the state and military intelligence agencies which continue to focus on domestic political and social affairs.
  • The military, through business enterprises and other means, raises funds to cover around 75 per cent of its expenditures. These fund-raising activities are generally not subject to public scrutiny: military commanders have access to large sums of money that could be used to finance future political manoeuvres.

Despite these political resources, it is not possible for the military to regain control of the government in the near future. It is far too fragmented to act cohesively; it lacks confidence in its capacity to provide answers to Indonesia's manifold challenges; and, most importantly, its leaders know that any attempt to restore its political power would almost certainly trigger massive demonstrations throughout the country, which could easily turn into riots – which they are unsure, in turn,  of their capacity to handle.

Nevertheless, military officers – either on their own initiative or on instructions from higher levels in the military hierarchy – have sometimes engaged in activities that seem designed to undermine the authority of the elected government. For example:

  • There are some indications of military resistance to government policy, especially in regions experiencing disturbed security conditions, such as Aceh, Maluku, West Timor and Irian Jaya;
  • Although not proven, it is widely believed in political circles – including at the highest levels in the government – that some retired officers continue to influence serving officers to carry out activities, including the aggravation of social conflict, to undermine the stability of civilian government; and
  • The military seems to have succeeded in delaying and obstructing the holding of trials of officers accused of violation of human rights.

This report identifies the basic measures that need now to be taken to reinforce the current commitment of the Indonesian military to stay out of politics – practical measures aimed at restraining the capacity of the military, or elements within it, to challenge and frustrate government policies by unconstitutional means. The emphasis here is on the direction of the necessary responses rather than their administrative detail: future ICG reports on the military will address such issues as the role of the military and police in internal security operations, military power at the local level, and the politics of military reform.

Some of the recommendations developed in the concluding chapter of this report, and summarised below, require action by the military alone, but for the most part what is required is a cooperative relationship between the government and military – with the civilian government playing the leadership role. There are roles in the process of military reform for many actors – the President and his ministers, the legislatures, and the civilian political forces, as well as the military itself. But basic questions about the functioning of the military should not be decided by the military alone, simply because these matters are of fundamental importance for the nation as a whole. The ultimate goal in a democratic society must always be the achievement of full democratic control over military affairs by the civilian government.

Jakarta/Brussels, 5 September 2000

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