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Jakarta Post

Jokowi and problems of civilian supremacy over military

  • Anton Aliabbas

    The Jakarta Post

Shrivenham, UK   /   Wed, April 29, 2015   /  06:41 am

Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. Moeldoko announced recently that the armed forces would reinstate the post of deputy commander. He claimed President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo had approved the plan.

Certainly, the plan has raised concerns among civil society activists, who say the idea marks a setback for civilian supremacy.

As a term, civilian supremacy is understood to describe a system in a democracy, where the military is under the control of an elected civilian authority (Croissant et. al. 2011).

In other words, the elected leader holds a prerogative to control, manage and decide on any policies relating to the military sector.

It is one of the main elements of strengthening democracy. Consequently, institutionalization of civilian supremacy is one of the critical success factors for Indonesia'€™s consolidation of democracy.

Undeniably, there have been some improvements within the military sector in Indonesia in the aftermath of reformasi, such as separation of the Indonesian Military (TNI) from the National Police (Polri), the appointment of a civilian for the defense minister post and revocation of the military'€™s political role.

The changing domestic politics have also restructured the Defense Ministry-TNI relationship, in which the TNI falls under the coordination of the Defense Ministry.

Many scholars therefore believe that Indonesia is on the right track to implementing civilian supremacy. But despite the progress, military expert Marcus Mietzner ( 2011 ) says that '€œcivilian control over military remains far from being institutionally anchored and irreversible'€.

University of Heidelberg scholars Aurel Croissant and David Kuehn ( 2009 ) offer three areas to assess the degree of civilian control: civil dominance of elite recruitment and public policy, national defense and internal security. In the first area, President Jokowi seemed promising as evinced in the absence of military pressure during his selection of Cabinet members. He eventually picked only two retired generals, the lowest number ever.

But it does not mean Jokowi has fared better than previous presidents. By appointing a retired Army general as defense minister, Jokowi returned to the old era when the ministerial post was restricted to the military.

Obviously, this hurt the consolidation of civilian supremacy. Worse, Jokowi later named two other retired generals to fill key posts, the influential presidential chief of staff and a presidential advisor.

The Constitution gives Jokowi the privilege and prerogative to handpick his aides. But the question is whether Jokowi lacked good civilian candidates to assume strategic positions in his Cabinet. Until today Jokowi has never responded to public criticism over this issue.

In public policy affairs, Jokowi does not send good signals to improve the quality of civilian control either. He does not seem to develop good military budget oversight. The increase of military budget was not followed by an upgrade of accountability and transparency mechanisms within the military budget management. He has not empowered the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) although the antigraft body has asked for a better legal framework to scrutinize military budget spending.

In the national defense realm, Jokowi is also failing to strengthen civilian control. By approving the reinstatement of the TNI deputy commander, Jokowi has defected military reform.

Abolishing the post was one of the TNI'€™s achievements after reformasi. The TNI itself claimed the abolition as part of its internal reform. Rather than reviving the post, it would be better for Jokowi to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the TNI organization.

It is also regrettable that Jokowi gives priority to the National Security Bill and State Secrecy Bill in the National Legislation Program 2015-2019. Besides a lack of urgency, the two bills will potentially harm our transitional democracy.

He should have pushed for more important bills like the Military Tribunal Bill and the Military Support for Civilian Authority Bill (RUU Tugas Perbantuan).

Last, in the arena of internal security, Jokowi has not enhanced civilian control. He seems to tolerate the TNI to strike deals with various counterparts, including ministries, state-owned enterprises and state institutions, to uphold security in regions.

Data from rights group Imparsial reveals that the TNI has signed nine agreements in the first semester of the Jokowi administration. During five years of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration from 2009-2014, the TNI only inked 13 agreements.

The decline of civilian supremacy under Jokowi stems from his political position. As his position is weak vis-à-vis the veto players of leaders of political parties that support him, Jokowi finds difficulties in consolidating and managing his coalition. The selection of the new police chief is a case in point.

Understandably, Jokowi would prefer to engage the TNI as an ally rather than push a reform agenda that might harm their relations. By consolidating military support, he would feel more confident in facing political parties. Consequently, Jokowi has displayed leniency toward the military by accommodating TNI interests.

Definitely, Jokowi still has time and the opportunity to institutionalize civilian supremacy. As Croissant put it, Jokowi stands a great chance of playing an '€œagent of change'€ role to improve civilian supremacy, but it requires his commitment to boosting security sector reform.

There are some options that Jokowi could consider to reach the goal. First, he should rejuvenate the military role as the main element in managing state defense. He can start with the annulment of all TNI non-security agreements and let the TNI focus on external threats.

With regard to regional security, Jokowi should empower and strengthen the police'€™s role in internal security. He should issue a legal framework that can guide ministries, state-owned enterprises and civilian institutions on how to deal with regional security, with the police'€™s assistance.

Second, Jokowi should prioritize deliberation of the Military Tribunals Bill and Military Support to Civilian Authority Bill, which are important to reinforce the legal basis of TNI-police cooperation and to end an impunity culture within the defense sector. A military tribunal law would help the KPK to oversee military spending.

Third, Jokowi should improve accountability and transparency mechanisms of the military budget through the application of e-budgeting, which would allow the public to easily monitor military spending.

Finally, to sharpen his maritime-axis vision, Jokowi should evaluate the progress in the development of military capabilities. One possible action is by conducting a strategic defense review (SDR).

Assessing all the improvements, threats and changing geopolitical realities of the Asia Pacific will help him achieve the vision. The SDR could provide a platform for the development of main weaponry systems for the next five years.

Jokowi should also consider the establishment of the National Defense Council, as mandated by 2002 State Defense Law, which would assist him in redesigning defense strategy.

The writer works for Digimed, a digital media consulting company based in Jakarta, and is currently a PhD research student at the Centre for International Security and Resilience, Cranfield University, Shrivenham, the UK.

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