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Jakarta Post

Insight: Is Indonesia heading toward a ‘militarized democracy’?

  • Evan A. Laksmana
    Evan A. Laksmana

    Researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 21, 2019   /   09:22 am
Insight: Is Indonesia heading toward a ‘militarized democracy’? Members from the Indonesian military's armoured division take part in a parade to mark the 72nd anniversary of the Indonesian military's founding in Cilegon on October 5, 2017. (AFP/Ricardo)

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has come under heavy fire in recent months for its proposal to expand its force structure and assign more officers to civilian agencies and ministries. The proposal is meant to address the growing promotional logjams within the officer corps, which has left hundreds of officers without billets.

Civil society groups charge that the TNI seems bent on resurrecting the now-defunct dwi fungsi (dual function) doctrine that allowed the military to have both socio-political and security roles. Scholars also wonder whether the proposal reflects the “growing militarization of Indonesian democracy”.

But the logjams are not some poorly constructed excuse to resurrect the New Order. The organizational problems are real and they require immediate solutions.

The TNI claims that at the moment, 150 general-rank officers and 500 colonels are without jobs commensurate to their rank and qualifications. This problem did not happen overnight. Between 2011 and 2017, around 30 general-rank officers and 330 colonels had their careers put on hold every year because there were no billets available.

This problem stems in part from the extension of the retirement age from 55 to 58 in 2004, which kept older officers within the TNI structure longer, even as non-military positions were abolished after the end of the New Order. It also in part comes from the TNI’s messy personnel management system, from the lack of transparency and political interventions, to the absence of an “up-or-out” policy (giving officers a limited time to get promoted).

Today’s logjams can be traced to the proliferation of “horizontal” rotation under the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: moving officers from one equivalent-ranked post to another and allowing officers from the same academy class to hold the same post at least twice. Therefore, more officers were rotated laterally than were promoted vertically or retired.

To address this problem, the TNI slowly expanded its structure and began assigning hundreds of officers to non-TNI institutions during Yudhoyono’s second term. Under the 2004 TNI Law, active duty officers could be assigned to 10 different non-TNI agencies and ministries, including defense, search and rescue, maritime security and other branches.

In many ways, the recent proposal is merely an extension—even if in expanded form—of an ongoing practice. The proposal is also likely to be a short-term solution to reduce the genuine problem of promotional logjams, rather than a systematic push to bring back the New Order.

After all, dwi fungsi was a specific set of policies, involving issues from doctrinal concepts and seats in the legislature, to holding a variety of political and public offices. Thus far, there is no evidence that the TNI is promoting those ideas or is seeking to undo the 31 organizational changes it has made since 1999 to shed dwi fungsi and to depoliticize its role.

It is not clear that the TNI or a majority of officers want to go back to the New Order days. Many within the younger generation who rose through the ranks in the 1990s and 2000s privately disapprove of the New Order-style expansive political presence.

These men, who were at the forefront of the New Order in the 1990s as junior officers or soldiers, complained of the deteriorating respect they had in society then—and how they were castigated for every government failure. This is why the TNI spokesperson claimed that dwi fungsi had more pitfallsand negativity than promises or positive values.

That being said, the TNI leadership is generally content with retaining pockets of influence on some policy issues and gradually consolidating its organizational prerogatives and autonomy, like most militaries in the world.

This brings us to the difficult question of the “militarization of Indonesian democracy”.

Some have viewed the TNI’s proposal within the broader growing role of retired officers under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, despite the fact that by the late 2000s, the TNI’s involvement in national and local political institutions fell to its lowest level since the 1950s.

While hundreds of retirees have joined political parties since 1999, most of those running for local office have lost. Retirees have only won fewer than 4 percent of all local elections since 2015. At the national level, only 16 out of 560 people, fewer than 3 percent, elected in the 2014 elections were retired military personnel.

In each post-Reform Era administration, on average only 11 percent of Cabinet-level appointments (around five men per administration) were retirees. These trends fit the demographic profile of the broader post-New Order political elite, where one study recorded that only around 10 percent of its members came from the military.

Further, while retirees entered politics for either idealistic (e.g. public service) or pragmatic reasons (e.g. employment), nearly all did so without specific instructions from TNI headquarters. We should not assume that they will always and only fight for the TNI’s corporate interests.

In short, the TNI is facing serious organizational challenges. While the proposed solution is short-sighted, one should not jump to the conclusion that there is a concerted effort to resurrect either dwi fungsi or the New Order.

Indonesian democracy is certainly fraught with challenges but the label “militarization” seems unwarranted.


The writer is a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.