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May 28, 1999 

Military sets itself new limits in keeping with the times

Reform is sweeping across Indonesia and has caught up the military in its
course. Suharto used the armed forces and they grew in strength under his long
rule. But changes in direction call for a diminution of the military role in
all aspects of society, including reducing its allotment of seats in the
parliament. These are trying times.

Anuraj Manibhandu

Indonesia's armed forces may now be more concerned about their own internal
reforms than about the parliamentary elections taking place on June 7. But the
first open political contest in 44 years will be a turning point for
and Thai analysts are interested in seeing how well the ruling Golkar party
conceived by generals fares, and how the military relates to it thereafter.

"We have to see how Golkar and the military co-operate," said Withaya
Sucharithanurugse, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian

Surachart Bamrungsuk, military affairs analyst at the same university,
emphasised that the Indonesian military were in an important transition. He
also sees parallels between Indonesia's present situation and Thailand's
experience after the student-led uprising of 1973 overthrew an entrenched
military dictatorship.

The Indonesian armed forces, a constituency of 370,000 people, are not voting
in the elections in nine days' time, in keeping with their tradition of

But they have to adjust to a new, much reduced role in the next legislature.
They also are under pressure to end dual military and civilian functions, as
well as to withdraw from political life altogether.

In addition, they are being pushed to "delink" from a past of close relations
with former President Suharto, said Mr Withaya.

The Indonesian military may feel "constrained" but the pro-reform wave gives
them no choice, said the Indonesia specialist who will join a non-government
observer mission to the upcoming polls.

In Jakarta, J. Kristiardi, a political scientist at the Centre for Strategic
and International Studies, said the Indonesian military "for the time being"

was not concerned about the election's outcome.

They are "busy with their own internal problems... and how to make
Indonesia in
a good position for the next general elections [in 2004]", he said.

In the military's quest for a new paradigm, General Wiranto, the armed forces
commander and defence minister, has presided over two major discussions on the
subject in the past two weeks.

A seminar in Bandung, northwest of Jakarta, heard almost 100 generals and
several scholars discuss "very deeply" the armed forces role in the "new era",
said Mr Kristiardi.
During a discussion at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta on Tuesday,
focused on civilian-military co-operation, Gen Wiranto assured the
that the armed forces would have a new paradigm, said the specialist on
domestic affairs.

The military is "very serious"about reform "not because of political good will
but because of external pressures, from public opinion, from the students", he

In initial moves in April, the armed forces, previously known as Abri, or
Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia, reverted to the name Tantara Nasional
Indonesia (TNI) and separated the police force from their ranks.

At the same time, Gen Wiranto ordered the military to choose between military
and civilian jobs, and about 4,000 have since resigned from the military,
according to Brig-Gen Jat Sudrajat, the armed forces deputy spokesman

They opted to stay in jobs as governors and district and village level chiefs,
he said. But in the province of Irian Jaya, more than 100,000 residents have
asked Gen Wiranto not to retire their governor because they take pride in
having an administrator who holds a military rank. A two-star admiral,
Freddy Numeri, had submitted his request to resign from his military post.

Mr Kristiardi recalled some resistance to Gen Wiranto's order from the
of transmigration but the general reminded him of the military's commitment to
obeying their commanders.

The military also is shifting from the fixed security approach that was the
orientation of the old paradigm to a "comprehensive approach" with an
and prospective way of thinking", says a book released on the 53rd anniversary
of Abri in September last year.
>From playing a "central" role, the military, according to Brig-Gen Sudrajat,
will be "sharing political power" with other components in the national

Indonesia still needs to develop "in terms of prosperity and nation-building",
and the military will participate in this as well as in the promotion of
democracy, and safeguard the country's sovereignty.

Mr Kristiardi said the military was aware that it had been used by former
President Suharto for his "own purposes", and it has a "moral obligation" to
get back "on the right track".
A main problem, he said, is the army's involvement in politics as the air
and navy are "completely" behind the idea of forging a new paradigm.

Like in Thailand, the army is by far the biggest force of the three, at
compared with the combined strength of the other two of 370,000.

The armed forces believe they have a legitimate reason based on history for
retaining a political role.

The 53rd anniversary book quotes the military scholar Carl Von Clausewitz
justifying in 1832 the link between the military and politics by saying that
war is a "means" for achieving a political objective.

After the June 7 elections, the military will have 38 seats, rather than their
previous quota of 75, in the 500-strong parliament. Their strength in
provincial and district level assemblies also will be halved, from 20% to 10%
of members.

The 38 appointees to the national assembly were chosen about a month ago and
most are former incumbents, with about 55% representing the "older
said Mr Kristiardi. There was no word on appointments in lower level

If military appointees are to be done away with completely from the
after the next elections in 2004, as a substantial sector of the public
demands, then there has to be a "trade off", he said, suggesting a "proper"
budgetary provision. The military accounts for only 3% of the national budget,
he said.

Many reject the idea of compensating the military loss of seats in parliament
by giving them the right to vote like other citizens.
"The military don't want to vote, they do what they are told," said one. "What
if a whole battalion follows the choice of their commander?" asked another.

Brig-Gen Sudrajat said: "It would be very hard due to the tradition of
neutrality... We are not the same as America."Though no two situations are
identical, Mr Surachart sees parallels in the length of time it took for the
student-led uprisings in both countries to end authoritarian rule.

While Mr Suharto, a five-star general, stepped down on May 21 last year after
32 years in the top job, the Oct 1973 uprising in Bangkok ended 26 years of a
military regime that began in 1947 with Field Marshal Pin Choonhavan, he said.

"With us, we had one regime but many leaders," he said, referring to Field
Marshals Pibulsongkhram, Sarit Thanarat and Thanom Kittikachorn.

And it took Thailand another 19 years, from 1973 to the events of May 1992,
the military to relinquish its hold on political power.

"The Indonesian military has just started walking out of the old regime," he
But there is an important difference in that the Indonesian armed forces
have a
history of seeking reform from within, pointed out Mr Surachart.

In Petition 50, spearheaded in 1980 by the navy, the armed forces sought to
remind President Suharto that he had misused them for his own ends, and
levelled a critique at dwifungsi, or dual civilian and military functions,
Mr Kristiardi.

Participants in the move included Gen Benny Murdani, who became armed forces
commander and subsequently defence minister, and Gen Feisal Tandjung, who led
Abri in the early 1990s.

Gen Wiranto at the time of the petition was "still in a low-ranking position",
he said.
But like experiences do not mean like procedures. While the Thai military
intervened several times through civilian politicians' battles with democracy,
many analysts rejected suggestions that Indonesia's soldiers would do the


Mr Withaya said resorting to a forced takeover would make life even more
difficult for the Indonesian military, who currently are under pressure to
withdraw from East Timor.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an adviser to President Jusuf Habibie, said Indonesia had
"no tradition" of military coups. An analyst said it was "against the ethos".

Brig-Gen Sudrajat noted that Gen Wiranto "had a chance" to take over last year
but did not take it.

In Mr Kristiardi's view, Gen Wiranto faces "a lot of problems" within the
forces and does not have enough power within the army to stage a coup.

But he doesn't rule out the possibility that an intervention might come to the
minds of generals if a civilian government mismanages the country.

Mr Kristiardi and Mr Withaya agree that the very size of Indonesia, a country
of 13,000 islands, poses a major obstacle to any would-be coup makers.

The tide of reform is "so strong" that it compels the military to adjust
than make themselves "enemies" of the people, said Mr Withya. And it is up to
the people, added Mr Kristiardi, to "keep the military to its promises".

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Last Modified: Fri, May 28, 1999
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