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Asia Times

Asia Times, Apr 15, 2004

Indonesian army pullout from parliament

By Andreas Harsono

JAKARTA - For nearly 50 years, the Indonesian military held 20 percent of the county's parliamentary seats - but now the time has come for these unelected officers to leave the legislative building for good - and find a new place in the country's changed political landscape.

When the new and expanded parliament, for which elections were held on April 5, convenes in October, the 75 uniformed lawmakers previously appointed by Indonesian leaders, including former dictator Suharto, will no longer be making policy.

This phasing out of military involvement in politics and civil society marks yet another step in the democratic reforms that have been under way since 1998 in the world's fourth most populous country. Most welcome the change as a move toward furthering democracy, but some concerns remain.

"It's going to be different because we used to see these officers coming on time" for legislative sessions, said Ujang Royadi, an employee in Senayan, as the parliament building in central Jakarta is popularly called, suggesting that civilian lawmakers are not as punctual or as disciplined as military officers.

But democracy is more than a matter of arriving for sessions on time, and the law that allowed for the nomination of military officers to parliament - thereby institutionalizing the military's role in Indonesian politics - has long been cited as one of the biggest flaws in the country's political system.

"We have not been a democracy yet over the last five years, because we still had those unelected people. But [now] we will be more democratic indeed," said Rahman Tolleng, a former legislator who, in the early 1970s, witnessed the Indonesian military's takeover of 20 percent of parliamentary seats.

The idea of putting unelected officers in parliament began in 1959, when Indonesia's founding president, Sukarno, dismissed the democratically elected parliament and appointed politicians to represent various groups in a pseudo-parliament. One of the groups he included was the military.

Sukarno was toppled in a coup in 1965, and the military-backed regime of Suharto strengthened the military's role in the early 1970s. At that time, Suharto allowed the Indonesian military to occupy 100 of the 500 seats in parliament.

The argument for doing this then was to stabilize Indonesia's secular constitution and protect it from either the communists or Muslim fundamentalists.

Afterward, Suharto began the militarization of the Indonesian political structure, installing active military officers as ministers, governors, regents and other officials. The military also introduced a doctrine called its "dual function" to justify its presence in civilian roles.

After Suharto was forced to step down in 1998 amid popular protests, civil-society organizations immediately called on the military to vacate their parliamentary seats - national, provincial and local - as well as dismantle their territorial commands.

But during the transitional period in democratic reforms that came after that time, civilian leaders, including incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, agreed to let these unelected military officers keep their parliamentary seats after reducing their number from 100 to 75.

It was only in 2002 that the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest representative body, agreed to scrap the military seats altogether. The Indonesian military also began to ban active military officers from seeking elected office, agreeing to peacefully step back from parliament - whose membership will now be increased to 550 - when its new members convene in the fall.

But while the military's departure from parliament is a positive sign for an emerging democracy, genuine reform in the military's political role is another issue.

Rahman said that as long as the territorial commands - another Suharto legacy - are still in place, it is actually easy for the military to jump back into politics.

And the continued existence of these commands show that the idea of civilian supremacy is not fashionable among many Indonesian officers. "Especially among the retired ones," said Agus Widjojo, a retired three-star general who helped draft the military's pullout from parliament two years ago.

Rizal Sukma, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, said that in truth, many active military officers continue to intervene in day-to-day politics.

"The armed forces' headquarters still directs the Ministry of Defense, rather than the other way around," said Rizal, citing examples, such as active generals who are still directing weapons procurement and defense policies.

Last year, a controversy broke out when military headquarters reportedly decided to buy four Russian Sukhoi jet fighters and two helicopters without the involvement of Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil, who was confined in a Singapore hospital at the time.

"Old habits die hard," Rizal said.

Critics said that Matori, a close, mild-mannered confidant of Megawati, does not understand military issues well enough to win respect from his generals. His lack of expertise is a liability given the strong political tradition of the Indonesian military and has created difficulties between the generals with their civilian minister.

"It is still new for our generals to accept a civilian to be their boss," said Agus.

But despite the hurdles, the overall trend of sweeping parliament clean of military appointees has become difficult to reverse.

For instance, Posma Lumbang Tobing, a police general, is the last officer to head the current military faction in Senayan. A team of academicians will be writing a book about the military faction, which has been in parliament for 45 years.

And though the military presence appears to be dwindling, some of the standards they set hopefully will not be. "We also contributed a lot to the parliament," Posma said, adding, "At least, we instilled discipline in being on time, hopefully future members will have that discipline."

(Inter Press Service)

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