Indonesia's Shaky Transition
Indonesia's Shaky Transition
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 5 / Asia 4 minutes

Indonesia's Shaky Transition

The past two years has been a highly turbulent period for Indonesia.

Executive Summary

The past two years has been a highly turbulent period for Indonesia.  The economic crash of 1997 left many Indonesians shell-shocked and deeply insecure.  The mass political uprising of early 1998 reflected profound frustration among the population and produced a political meltdown as Soeharto bowed out after 32 years in power.  Since then, President Habibie has struggled in the face of continuing economic problems, a suspicious military and an anxious elite.  His efforts to satisfy popular demand for political reform have gone sufficiently far to panic the Javanese establishment but not far or fast enough to win the backing of an increasingly weary and impatient public.  The loss of East Timor and international condemnation of the behaviour of Indonesian troops in the province has dealt a blow to national morale and triggered a wave of nationalism that could yet have destructive consequences.  The elections of June 1999 – Indonesia’s first free elections since the 1950s – have yet to produce a clear outcome, though none of the presidential contenders seems ready to embark on a process of radical reform for fear of opening up a confrontation with the military, which continues to exercise great influence in the political arena, despite recent setbacks.

Meanwhile, the flames of impending crisis continue to burn in Aceh, Irian Jaya, Ambon and other parts of the country.  In each case, the instinctive response of the military, to go in all guns blazing, risks dousing fuel on the fire.  The time available to resolve these problems peacefully, through a de-escalation of violence and the negotiation of genuine and substantial autonomy, is running out.

The election of a new government presents Indonesians and the international community alike with a window of opportunity to address these problems head on and thereby prevent Indonesia from turning into a major new zone of instability and conflict.  For the first time in more than four decades, Indonesia will have a government that has some claim to democratic legitimacy, one probably less attached to the record of the past than its predecessor and so freer to face up to and account for past mistakes.  In addition, the incoming government will be anxious to demonstrate an ability to deliver economic recovery, for which international financial support will be vital.  By working with the new government, attaching conditions to international financial assistance and channelling funding through to specific priority areas, the international community can help steer Indonesia in the direction of better governance and greater stability.

One of the most urgent tasks, and one of the greatest challenges, awaiting the new government will be to put in place a programme of reform of the military.  A number of steps need to be taken to reign in the power of the military and subjugate it to civilian control, including an end to the military’s political function; extension of the partial ban on the appointment of serving military officers to posts in the executive and administration; statutory limitation of the powers of the military; permanent withdrawal of the 1999 State Security Bill; the abolition of military representatives in the People's Consultative Assembly; and a review of salaries, recruitment, induction and training programmes.  Also critical will be establishing a genuinely independent investigation into past human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.  Given the hostility of the military such an initiative, it is proposed that the investigation be conducted along the same lines as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  This would permit an honest appraisal of the past, acknowledgement of wrongdoing and acceptance of responsibility for past human rights abuses, while protecting individuals from prosecution.

Reforms are also needed to tackle chronic corruption and strengthen the rule of law, including an independent investigation into corruption in the public sector; action to prosecute individuals against whom there is substantial evidence of corrupt practice; a review of the working of the commercial court system and of recently-introduced commercial regulatory legislation; and the introduction of the requirement that all judges publish reasons for court decisions.  The international community should provide whatever technical assistance is required to implement the above reforms and provide assistance in relation to judge training and support for civil society groups active in investigation and exposing evidence of corruption.

Finally, steps must be taken to defuse local tensions and prevent the present violence in Aceh, Irian Jaya and Ambon from escalating into major destabilising conflicts.  Withdrawal of the military to barracks and a thorough investigation into past human rights abuses are both essential prerequisites to solving Indonesia’s regional problems.  So too is agreement on a new package of autonomy laws which provides the regions with real power of autonomy and a fairer share of the profits from local natural resources.  The new government should build on the proposals for greater autonomy developed by the Habibie administration, which are widely seen outside of Java as inadequate, and seek to develop a new model that satisfies the legitimate desire of Indonesia’s regions to manage their own affairs.

The international community should leave the new government in Jakarta in no doubt of its willingness to provide both technical and financial assistance to help ensure the smooth and successful passage of these and other necessary reforms.  However, at the same time, it should be made clear that failure to move in the directions indicated will have serious consequences, including the withdrawal of political and financial support for the new government.

Jakarta, 10 October 1999

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