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
"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
"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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