In its editorial on May 25, the paper urges the President to push for a professional military under a civilian commander-in-chief.
The first 20 months under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo are looking “more ferocious than the New Order”, one activist has said.
Haris Azhar, as quoted in Koran Tempo on Tuesday, was responding to the request of Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu for the military to deploy personnel to provincial defence offices.
Ryamizard referred to the 2002 Defense Law as the basis of the offices, reportedly a legacy from former minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, for which tasks remain unclear apart from supporting efforts to instill nationalism and boost state defence.
However, Haris echoed increased fears of having the black boots harassing daily life again – meaning a full-circle return to the Indonesian Military’s ( TNI ) powerful defence and non-defence roles.
The military’s dwi fungsi ( dual role ) was the New Order’s means to entrench then president Soeharto’s rule – until the TNI’s New Paradigm introduced the defence-only role to the rank and file on TNI Day on Oct. 5, 1998, barely five months after the strongman quit.
With the Reform Era, the TNI’s political role diminished faster than its network of businesses.
But politicians aspiring for public office attempted to harness the military’s improved public image.
Those who succeeded now help to retain the influence of active and retired personnel – including Ryamizard and others around President Jokowi.
Beyond only a few active and retired officers who have reached top positions, leaders have faced the problem of satisfying a corps suddenly expected to be “professional”.
Jokowi’s predecessor, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, started prioritising their weaponry and welfare.
Jokowi has gone farther, perhaps too far.
The top brass and soldiers have surely drawn further encouragement from Jokowi’s embracing of the TNI as tentara rakyat ( the people’s military ).
The President has also said that as the TNI was “born from the people’s womb” during the revolutionary days, it could not hurt the people.
But in echoing past jargon in the history of the TNI’s birth, he did more than appease resentment, particularly among the old guard, of the TNI being expected to sit on the bench indefinitely during peacetime.
Thus the military, without much controversy, has entered into a few dozen agreements with ministries where soldiers are deployed in various programs.
Ryamizard’s hallmark is his nationwide state defence training program, boosted by his trumpeted threats of revived dangerous ideologies like communism.
While officials and politicians may say the TNI’s role is needed in strategic areas including combating terrorism, fundamental reforms have not been met – including the dismantling of top-down military commands.
Ryamizard may say the defence control offices aim to replace these commands to face national threats.
However, most threatening is the TNI’s return to public life with no progress on efforts to end its impunity in relation to a long list of human rights abuses.
Jokowi has cleverly enabled outlets for idle, otherwise dangerous men with weapons.
But he must use his popularity to enforce his nine-point development agenda to ensure citizens’ safety and security – which entails a professional military and Defence Ministry under the control of the civilian commander-in-chief.
* The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.