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The Military

Understanding the history of how the Indonesian military developed is crucial in the understanding of current politics and current attitudes in Indonesia with regard to the way it is governed, past, present and future. In order to understand clearly the forces at work among the leadership elite in Indonesia and the attitude and mentality of the Indonesian power-holders, as well as the average citizens today, it is necessary to understand the historical events that shaped this mind-set. Indeed, Indonesia's history (as with any nation) is a prominent factor in the way it views the world.

In Indonesia, soldiers have long been been more politicians than military professionals, and the military is the product of a global war. The earliest forerunner of the Indonesian armed forces was the militia called the Javanese Volunteer Defense Force (PETA), created and organized by the Japanese occupiers in the 1940s. The earliest "regular" armed force became a disjointed and regionalized group, which was obliged to share the political stage with other players created and/or organized by the Japanese: political militias (which still exist to this day in many forms - Islamist groups, poltical parties and tycoons all have their own militia gangs) or irregulars, vice gangsters co-opted by student republicans, political parties and politicized Islamic groups. Complicating matters in the early days of the independence struggle was the re-emergence of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which claimed the right to lead in the emerging "revolutionary situation." The PKI, for the military, was a threat to both its own hegemony and to the nascent state in the 1950s and early 1960s, until their eventual annihilation in 1965-1967, after then-Major General Soeharto all but orchestrated a phony coup and replaced the civilian president Soekarno.

The Indonesian Army claimed - with a great deal of validity - that it fought for and won independence. However, there were other armed units involved. In contrast to other colonial transitions where power transfer was a relatively nonviolent exercise, Indonesia's colonial masters sought to re-impose rule after World War II with the defeat of the Japanese. The result was an extremely volatile, befuddled era (1945-1949) of hostility between the Dutch and an array of nationalist fighters and groups, as well as among the nationalist forces themselves - this was highlighted by several intra-armed force clashes, something that is still common today, particularly between the Army and the Police. Intra-military conflicts also arose over the organization, function and roles of the armed units in the post-independence era.

During the early life of the independent state in the 1950s, politics were complex and turbulent. There was discord over how the fledgling country would be set up politically; how society-state linkages would be structured; and which group(s) would do the structuring. There was no consensus on such questions: each branch of the military (the highly powerful army and the less powerful navy and the air force) had its vision, but so did the PKI, the Islamic militias, the socialists and various prominent elites. 

The early progression of state-society affairs in the East Indies

In the pre-colonial times of what is now known as "Indonesia" - an area encompassing well over 16,000 islands - there didn't exist anything that could be defined as a "core kingdom." Ancient ragtag "empires" did exist: The Java-based Hindu empire Majapahit in the 1300s; later Mataram, founded by Sultan Agung, lasted from 1615 to 1649 but was based only on Java, and at a time when the Dutch were already present. Nonetheless, modern Indonesia is, in fact, a creation or by-product of colonialism.

What existed prior to the colonial time, as Indonesian historians have elucidated upon, was a collection of haphazardly controlled "kingdoms" or "harbor states." Some of these "belonged" loosely to Majapahit, and later Mataram. Relations among the kings and the vassals, the rulers and the ruled, had been articulated in terms quite similar to those operating in the other similar Southeast Asian "kingdoms." By the middle of the 17th century, Mataram had crumbled. In the 1660s, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) had stepped in as the prevailing power. By the 1740s, the VOC was fully in charge. The remaining pockets of the deposed Mataram kingdom became vassal-like states, similar to India during the Raj; some portions of Java were proxy-ruled by regents ('bupati,' the "bureaucratic" nobility and/or preceding under-lords that constituted the local aristocrats - or 'prijaji' class).  In Batavia (which would become Jakarta), and its vicinity, the Dutch/VOC directly ruled. On the rest of Java (and to some extent other islands), they ceded authority to the 'bupati,' vassals and their militia/labor leader "allies." The arrangements varied broadly, epitomizing the disorderly administrative-political difficulties and ambiguities of colonial rule.

The earliest nationalistic moves were led in 1907-08 by the Boedi Oetomo group, a promoter of Java-based traditionalism and nationalism. Crucial in this group were the forward-thinking 'prijaji,' who held a moderate stance against Dutch rule. Later, the Sarekat Islam (SI) was created in 1912, which had its base in the Association of Islamic Traders. SI aimed to subvert and weaken the economic supremacy of Chinese businesspeople. This Islamic militia could be described as widespread and popular, and by 1919 had an estimated 400,000 proponents. The PKI was formed a year later.

The birth of the armed forces 1900-1945

In ancient Java, well before the Dutch arrived, common gangs of bandits were a regular part of the social milieu and regularly extorted travelers, often violently. Some of the early kingdoms were able to gauge their own power by their ability to suppress these gangs. However, in time, some of the gangs became more violent and rulers were not able to suppress them, so politically minded rulers incorporated the brigand leaders into their own private militias. These "alliances" almost never remained stable. 

When the Dutch arrived and began cultivating - via large sugar, tobacco and coffee plantations - much of the Javanese countryside, it was the descendants of these brigand leaders that Dutch plantation owners and governors turned to when they needed "gangs" of laborers to work in their fields. The gangs eventually began to engage in fierce "tribal wars" to establish supremacy and win the labor contracts with the plantation owners. 

The Dutch administration, enjoying the economic benefits of not having to scour the countryside for laborers or deal with discipline issues, turned a blind eye to these gang wars. By the 1920s, these ever-larger labor gangs had begun to turn to other forms of "business" to enrich themselves and become more powerful. These, predictably, included vice rings. And again, so long as the gangsters did not attack or impede the Dutch establishment, the large-scale network of Java's own brand of "mafia" groups remained under the radar - and in many cases became regents ('bupati') or mayors of small towns, all while still running their businesses of labor, vice and violence. As the country lurched toward independence in the 1920s to1940s, these gang leaders became more and more politicized - particularly because independence-minded academics, quasi-political groupings or student groups often called upon them, when they needed some extra "muscle." This occurred in a number of cases during the Japanese occupation and especially thereafter, when in 1945, Soekarno declared independence.

During this time, a coalition emerged comprising student nationalists and western Java (including Jakarta) gangsters. One particularly powerful militia group called itself the People's Militia of Greater Jakarta (Milisi Rakyat Jabotabek). It became one of the most powerful irregular army groups during the struggle for Indonesia's independence against the Dutch and their allies, which included the British and Australians. There were many other militia groupings like them based in Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Bandung and dozens of other smaller towns across Java and Sumatra. As full independence seemed imminent, thousands of these hardened irregulars had become, effectively, a part of the regular army in most cases.  

The gangster and militia leaders were usually given an officer's rank. That trend started in November 1945, when gang leader Moefreni was given the rank of Colonel. The militia commandants, in effect, reached equal status with higher class, educated officers in the nascent armed forces. Additionally, these gang bosses ultimately came to be dominant in the armed forces - particularly the Army - and the entire government apparatus, including the civil service.

The Military gets its start during the independence struggle of 1945-1949

The Second World War made a deep impression on the East Indies archipelago. WWII saw the widespread disarticulation of the entrenched elites and ruling structures - the Dutch governors and their domestic allies. The Japanese armed forces moved in, promising independence from colonial rule, allowing the formation of groups that would play key roles in the political climate of the day. This included the now-ubiquitous militant youth gangs (a.k.a., the 'pemuda'); the Muslim-based Masyumi party; and partially armed militias - including Hizboellah (the army of Allah, as part of Masyumi), the Heiho corps and the aforementioned Javanese Volunteer Defense Force. By 1944, they had created a nationalism-based umbrella group, known as the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence. The young leader Soekarno was one of the key leaders; and this later became the Central National Committee for Indonesia (KNIP) - essentially a pseudo-legislature that stayed intact until limited elections in 1955.

In August 1945, just two days after Japan's defeat, Soekarno and Mohammed Hatta proclaimed Indonesia's independence. There was, however, little or no proper governmental infrastructure in existence. The neophyte leaders, also know locally as the "founding fathers," faced circumstances wherein control and authority actually was in the clutches of a diverse mishmash of armed gangs, militias and semi-organized pro-independence fighters.

The Indonesian independence experience was thrown into disarray by their old colonizers as the Dutch forces made a concerted effort to reassert their dominance over what they still considered to be their colony. Between September 1945 and December 1949, Dutch military forces embarked on a number of offensives, interspersed with agreements that were later broken.

The struggle for independence was not waged by a united movement.  Friction regularly arose in dealings between Soekarno, Hatta, Syahrir, Amir Syarifuddin, Tan Malaka and the PKI leaders. Tension was also evident between civilian leaders like Syahrir and Amir, and the military led by Sudirman. There were also intra-military unrest and a lack of cohesion over the nature of the new armed forces - this precipitated a standoff between PETA and the Dutch-trained officers such as A. Haris Nasution.

The key chore for the new "administration" led by Syahrir and, nominally, Soekarno, was building the nation's military out of the hodgepodge of politicized armed militias and powerful mobsters. There was little agreement between military and civilian leaders, and within the armed groups themselves, as to how the institution should be structured.  Civilian administration was another problematic issue. The challenge was intensified by the fact that the leadership of the newly formed armed forces consisted largely of Japanese-trained PETA officers. These officers had by no means reconciled themselves to the notion of the military as an apolitical subordinate of the civilian government. PETA was staunchly nationalistic, but it was also fashioned and controlled by the Japanese. The "government" of Syahrir - a socialist who did not collaborate with Japan - was distrustful of PETA for this reason. Unease was only deepened by the Army's decision, in late 1945, to choose Sudirman as its chief.  Moreover, the Army elected and proposed that Yogyakarta's Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX be included as part of the cabinet as Minister of Security (i.e., Defense). Syahrir viewed this as an act of rank insubordination. To clarify, it was the practice for the Japanese military to elect the ministers of the army and the navy to the cabinet.  Syahrir, who considered himself a staunch "anti-fascist," was deeply suspicious of PETA officers who were trained by, and served with, the Japanese. He therefore rejected the Army's recommendation, and appointed Amir Syarifuddin as Minister of Security (1945-46) instead. In 1946, in an attempt to assert civilian control, Amir Syarifuddin attempted to post political officers within all divisional units. The above actions by civilian power-holders alienated the Army from Syahrir's government in particular, and "politicians" in general.

In response, Sudirman moved closer to Tan Malaka, a key opposition figure. Soon the army was embroiled in civilian politics. At the instigation of his followers, some officers staged an abduction of Syahrir - now referred to as the "July 3 Affair" - in the hope that Soekarno would appoint Tan Malaka to the government. This was the military's first intrusion into politics. Soekarno instead demanded Syahrir's release, then won over Surdirman by declaring that the Tentara Republic Indonesia (TRI) was the state's sole legitimate armed force, and by appointing him as chief of TRI.

The civilian-military struggle also touched on the crucial question of how the politicized militias were to be dealt with. The military wanted some of these militias put under its command and others disarmed, but there was dissension over exactly how this would be carried out. So when Nasution, acting under Sudirman's orders, tried in September 1948 to consolidate the military in preparation for the expected Dutch offensive, a bloody, futile resistance broke out, waged by communist militias and allied units who refused to disband. The "Madiun Affair" has been portrayed, and still is in current school textbooks and official accounts of history, as a communist "stab in the back" of the young Republic.

The Dutch chose not to go on the offensive at the time of the Madiun Affair. They did so in December, however, capturing Yogyakarta together with members of the "government." Despite Sudirman's pleas, Soekarno refused to leave the Republican capital to lead the resistance. Thus, when the Dutch eventually were forced by the international community to cease military actions in mid-1949, the embryonic Indonesian republican Army - which had fought some engagements with the Dutch - took the liberty to claim that it had brought about independence, not the politicians who had refused to fight.

Indonesia, 1949-1958: legislative politics and military rifts

The period between independence and the installation of the "Guided Democracy" in 1959-1960 was marked by the struggle among party leaders to gain the upper hand in an open arena of legislative politics. Parallel conflicts also arose between civilian power-holders and soldiers, and among the various military factions vying for control of the armed forces. Eventually, a number of inter-military and extra-military revolts gave Soekarno grounds to extend martial law throughout Indonesia in 1957, which in turn extended the military's influence in the civil administration. The PKI made its own "contribution" to the military's growing strength when its trade unions seized control of Dutch estates and firms in late 1957. It ended up being forced to hand them over to the military to be run as state enterprises, many of which still are. In this fashion, soldiers gained an important economic base within the state, which they used to recruit supporters from a pivotal economic sector - the labor force of the state enterprises, just like their predecessors had done during the Dutch plantation era.

By 1959-60, the military was firmly ensconced in Indonesian politics. The special military decrees Soekarno imposed to counter the revolts of the 1950s served to buttress military power; Soekarno's foreign adventures - the West Irian (now Papua province) campaign and the "Crush Malaysia" campaign - further entrenched it within the state. By virtue of General Nasution's Doctrine of Territorial Warfare, the military was also able to extend its presence in administrative bodies. Military men were made governors and district officers ('bupati'). Indonesian officers heading the Regional War Authority bodies could claim to speak and act as representatives of the President who, in turn, depended on them for the administration of martial law. The military undertook Civic Action and "development" projects. Finally, and even more significantly, the military set up a series of functional groups - 'pemuda,' peasants, labor, women, etc. - under its own control.

Soekarno's notion of functional group representation was, in fact, a stroke of luck for the military. It was consistent with the armed forces' distaste for legislative politics, and dovetailed also with its self-image as a functional group. That image, sanctioned by Soekarno in 1958, was later legitimized in Soeharto's New Order with its 'Dwi Fungsi' (Dual Function) system. The military thus affirmed its status as a socio-political grouping, one responsible for both defending and developing the nation. This reinforced its mystique as "guardian of the nation."

The functional groups concept enabled the military to build a civilian base, known as Sekber Golkar (the Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups). In essence, this was an anti-PKI front composed of over 90 functional groups - the forerunner of Golkar, the government's party that would dominate the representative-legislative milieu of Soeharto's 'Orde Baru'  (sometimes referred to in the media as 'Orba') and today remains the largest party in the House of Representatives, led by current Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

In the Guided Democracy years, however, the Sebker Golkar did not enjoy dominance. It could only compete with other fronts affiliated to political parties and the PKI. All of them competed for the favor of Soekarno, the man at the center of everything, who had become a haughty - albeit somewhat benevolent when the mood struck him - dictator.

The military's growing unease with Soekarno's increasingly close alliance with the PKI and by the specter of a communist triumph, the PKI was actually in a desperate "race against time." Indonesianist Harold Crouch notes that the ideological affinity between Soekarno and the PKI was not mirrored by a significant PKI presence in the state sphere, and its position was still far from secure.

The military, by contrast, was firmly entrenched in the state apparatus, as has been mentioned. In addition, the struggle between the PKI and the military over the "functional group representation" of the Guided Democracy order was still unresolved.

PKI political gains in rural areas, though, were offset by growing fears of lower-class violence and "Red Terror." Many members of the socio-economic elite were pushed away from Soekarno and the PKI, and into the arms of the military. In later years, beginning in 1974, left-wing Timorese groups, most notably Fretilin and its armed wing Falintil, were characterized using eerily similar language and catch phrases.

Still, the military, then known as ABRI, enjoyed a "competitive edge" over its rival and enemy, the PKI. The communists' long-term prospects appeared, at the time, quite encouraging, given their closeness to the president on which all actors in the Guided Democracy state depended. Things seemed even rosier when Soekarno's relations with ABRI worsened as a result of the latter's alleged foot-dragging on "nasakomization" (NasAKom stood for Nasionalis, Agama [religion], Komunis) and the "Fifth Force." Soekarno even accused military leaders of becoming "reactionary." Adding fuel to the fire was Soekarno's accusations that "Nekolim" (Neo-Colonialist) forces planned to assassinate him and that a coup by a CIA-backed "Council of Generals" was in the planning stages.

It certainly did not help the PKI when Soekarno vomited and collapsed while receiving a Sekber-Golkar delegation. This spawned speculation about his health and rumors of impending coups and power struggles. Tensions increased; the balance of power was growing unsettled as mutual suspicions deepened among Soekarno's order, the PKI and the military. This set the stage for the dramatic and traumatic violence that exploded in late 1965.

Soeharto's New Order

There are many versions of how Soeharto came to power, so we will not even open that can of worms here, but suffice it to say that the right-wing military officers prevailed after a much-disputed "PKI coup" and, effectively, a counter-coup, which saw Soekarno lose power to Soeharto. The PKI was all but exterminated within six months and Golkar became Soeharto's political vehicle. Dissent was violently suppressed and the administration, now led by Soeharto, set about to re-align itself firmly with the West, in particular the U.S., which at the time was involved in fighting communism in Vietnam and the Cold War.

With the PKI annihilated, ABRI was the only significant force left, and Soeharto purged the military of Soekarno-ists. His own loyalists - former militia gang leaders like Moefreni, Soemitro, Dharsono, Soerono, etc. - were appointed as commanders in different regions.

Both Soekarno and Soeharto based their rule on the 1945 Constitution and the five principles (or pillars) of Pancasila: Belief in One God, Humanitarianism, National Unity, Social Justice and People's Sovereignty. It was primarily meant as a unifying doctrine.  Both leaders used Belief in One God to thwart Islamic goals, and National Unity was an overriding preoccupation. Both leaders honored the other principles more symbolically than in practice, and they were able to manipulate all the pillars to serve their strategies of rule. However, in this respect, Soeharto was the more skillful political craftsman, and he was more successful in implementing an authoritarian state under the 1945 constitutional framework.

After the 1965 coup, Soeharto was faced with the task of firming up a badly shaken authoritarian order. Fortunately, there was, at that time, no one to challenge the legitimacy of the hegemonizing-legitimizing formula, built around the 1945 Constitution and Pancasila, which all elite groups - including ABRI and even PKI - had accepted as a "sacred" legacy of the revolution and integral to Indonesian nationhood.

Military scholars have pointed to this feature of dictatorial regimes: that some measure of agreement may coexist with oppression. The creation and evolution of the New Order was no easy task, however. It involved rearranging forces for a balance among the assemblage of state factions. It also meant to "tame" forces unleashed by the 1965 coup, especially Islamic forces, which had become politicized during the transition period.

Soeharto's main problem at this juncture was how best to engineer the entrenching of what was then his only power base - the Army - in the New Order's political arena, where it could serve as a controlling and stabilizing force. The politically sophisticated solution was a remodeling of the functional group representation principle provided for in the Constitution. The Sekber-Golkar, effectively employed to counter the PKI during the years of Guided Democracy, was revived. It became Golkar, the government's party, and was placed under ABRI control. Golkar's overriding function was to win votes and seats, and thus allow ABRI and Soeharto to control the representative-legislative sphere. That was successfully done in six elections - 1971, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992 and 1997 - (and to some extent made a big comeback in "winning the legislature" back in the 2004 election), which served to stabilize and legitimize the New Order. 

Golkar underwent several organizational reformulations before it was decided that Soeharto, as chief supervisor, would be the supreme head. Active or retired ABRI officers held the party chief position, and other top positions on these boards. Later, they would be succeeded to anyone particularly favored by Soeharto and ABRI.

The military exerted control over the population by dominating the public institutions with which ordinary people had to interact on a daily basis: the administrative machinery of the state. Civil servants were forced to join Golkar or functional groups such as the Civil Servants Corps (KORPRI), and to swear loyalty to the state - meaning at that time, Soeharto, ABRI and Golkar. This required that they had to cut their ties to other parties and join Golkar. ABRI's reach extended still further, in the form of a military-dominated hierarchy of extra-administrative bodies that oversaw (and intervened in) administration down to the village level. Public servants and policy-implementing bodies were thereby deprived, to a large extent, of autonomy. While not as overt, this system is still effectively, in place across much of the country. 

Noteworthy here is that although soldiers could be said not to monopolize administrative bodies as in the past, the fact remains that ABRI was able to intervene when and where it desired. It had the clout to prevent actions counter to its interests or threatening to its overall dominance - and as we have seen in recent years, even if one must look beneath the surface, much of this has been restored after the reformasi upheaval of 1998, where the ABRI, now TNI, lost much of their power and support. In the early years, the presence of ABRI in the administrative sphere was ubiquitous. So, too, was the subordination of civilian bureaucrats to military men, mostly Javanese officers, who governed nearly 80 percent of provinces in outer islands up until 1998-9 and constituted some 70 percent of all local police chiefs, regents ('bupati') and mayors.

The military further sought to impose control through surveillance and intimidation. Pivotal in this respect have been the intelligence and security agencies like the National Stability Coordination Board (BAKORSTANAS) and its current predecessors, including the State Intelligence Body (BIN) and the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (KOPKAMTIB). These powerful institutions still enjoy widespread powers to spy, intimidate, search and arrest, however their focus in recent years has been the surveillance of Islamic terrorist cells and "suspected" communists or separatists. Some, for instance, have been empowered to intrude in all spheres of society - in police work and labor disputes. During Soeharto's New Order, the military and intelligence groups watched students, censored the press, spied on military officers, civil servants, harassed opposition parties and groups, and exerted pressure on administrative agencies as the situation demanded. The degree and character of state intimidation varied and was dependent on the locality and situation. Intimidation was more open and pervasive in the years of the New Order, and today is rarely seen by the naked eye. Across the archipelago bullying and state terror were facts of life, and in some pockets - particularly Papua - remains just as strong.

Control of the press has long been seen by the military as particularly important to exerting control over society. It is exercised in many ways, including outright banning, although that rarely happens these days. In recent years, there have been government leaders attacking the press in the courts. More common is a telephone call requesting editors not to print certain articles or report on events, with the veiled threat of having the publication's permit revoked or subscriptions cancelled. Another is the "press briefing," where the press is given the "facts" of certain events.

Fear and self-censorship are the results. Largesse may also be provided: an air-conditioned secretariat for the Indonesian Journalists Association; soft and long-term loans; cash favors or "envelopes" full of cash; substantial governmental subscriptions; free airline tickets for pilgrimages to Mecca; or dinners for senior editors with ministers and top military brass. In sum, the press in Indonesia undergoes periodic but regular liberalization - usually followed by re-imposed restrictions by military-inspired doctrines. In the open periods, the press has been surprisingly and remarkably free. It has tended to push the limits and a clampdown inevitably follows when topics unfavorable to the military agenda are discussed.

The Indonesian military's success in entrenching itself in the state, and its position above society, have shaped the contours of the relationships that constituted the New Order and beyond, including the education system, the civil servants (teachers particularly). All of which continue to indoctrinate citizens. Its dominance has given soldiers the opportunity to become decision-makers, political managers and "politicians" in Golkar, and important administrators and policy formulators, as well as business managers. The military still indirectly exercises wide powers of supervision and control over local officials and societal organizations throughout rural society.

Military control of political-administrative offices has allowed top officers to use the state apparatus and political power to amass wealth, often through vice, human trafficking, drug trafficking, illegal logging, etc, much like the traditional Italian mafia groups. As a consequence, an entire class has emerged whose standing is based almost solely on political power and/or state connections. According to the late Moerdani, a former Defense Minister and once a close aide to Soeharto, an ordinary retired general could easily make US$5-$20 million in the 80s and 90s through contracts and tenders. Today, the numbers are even greater for some current and ex-military men, but the linkages are cloaked in a number of proxy companies or foundations. The military's dominance has been such that it would have been the envy of soldiers of several Latin American states.

The military wears three hats - those of soldier, politician, and administrator - and it has knitted the several million civil servants together under military tutelage. The result has been a relatively cohesive state stratum of armed and unarmed bureaucrats. In the decades since the birth of the New Order, members of this stratum have formed a cohesive social web, a "sub-society" separated especially from lower social strata. Additionally, the state has consciously created a collective awareness among state officials.

The identity is bolstered by provision of special privileges and prerequisites, increased opportunities for family members, and the higher social status that accrues from "belonging" to a ruling or administering class. It can be seen in the routines and rituals like the wearing of uniforms, Monday morning parades, membership in KORPI (or their wives' in Dharma Wanita), and "P4" courses of Pancasila indoctrination (which is also taught in all the schools). Members of this state socio-economic class have also established links with elites in other spheres: Chinese businesspeople, professionals and intellectuals, as well as local notables and community leaders. The regime's carrot-and-stick strategy of co-option, combined with the social and patrimonial linking of the official class to other societal elites, has created a national "elite network" and an important degree of consensus.

Certain rules of the game have been established, based on not rocking the boat too vigorously, or seeking support outside elite circles (for example, by championing the cause of subordinated social groups). Such linkages, rules and points of consensus are vital. Non-state elite groups gain access to state resources; state elites live very comfortably, partly as a result of their extra-state connections. Soeharto and the military were able to broaden the base of authoritarianism and create an elite consensus, which, despite rapid democratization in recent years and the direct people's election of the "thinking General" Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, such military power continues below the surface and inside the bureaucracy. The remodeling of the country's institutions from the legislature, schools and the newsrooms of media outlets to the universities has eroded whatever functional purpose they might have served. As former vice President Adam Malik put it, a good citizen's life came to consist of the "four Ds" (in Bahasa Indonesia): come to work or school (datang), sit down (duduk), be quiet (diam) and collect your money or grade (dapat duit). Despite some more recent tendencies towards independence among legislators and teachers, their power has been effectively circumvented for three generations.      

The military's place in the current reformasi era

Under Soeharto, the military (or the TNI as it is now officially termed), via a number of direct interventions into traditionally civilian spheres such as local politics, the court system, the media and education, compulsorily reshaped the opinions of the nation over three decades. These opinions remain very strongly ingrained to this day - from the top politicians to smallholding farmers and from chief editors to elementary school students. Any analysis requires a proper understanding of the military's "reach" and influence on the nation - particularly in attempting to formulate a hypothesis on its relations now and in the future with its own people, its neighbors and the wider international community.

However, while the TNI was able to openly and directly intervene in the affairs of state during Soeharto's New Order regime, it must now remain indirect and somewhat stealthy in influencing policies and events. This has come about as a result of democratization, which was one outcome of the people's "reformasi" movement in 1998. 

Just a few weeks after Soeharto's fall from power, the armed forces chief, Wiranto, appeared before the DPR and pledged to continue supporting the Constitution, but without favoring any particular political party or politician. This was the crux of the military's ‘new paradigm' in the reformasi era. Wiranto later made a run at the presidency in 2004 with Golkar, and now has formed a staunchly right-wing military-based party called Hanura (the "People's Heart and Conscience"), which looks set to vie for DPR seats in the 2009 election.

Reformasi, or literally Reform, was carefully chosen as the movement's slogan. It was explicitly not a revolution.  It was a cry by the upper middle-class students and their high-level, anti-Soeharto supporters, to allow them more access into the tiny elite clique with its direct military support, which controlled the country. It was a demand by civilian elites to open the doors just a little wider to the halls of power - but only wide enough for this group of civilian elites. This still small group of elites did not have military backgrounds nor direct backing from the military, but post-reformasi, now have entered into a mutually beneficial alliance, often indirect, with the still powerful military. 

The reformasi movement was never anti-nationalist, nor was it - as many pundits and foreign journalists seemed to conclude - an attempt to destroy the military. It was never meant to be a revolution, just some small changes, some reform, in order that more groups could achieve power. In a crude sense, it was a group of would-be, non-military elites who wanted "in on the action." Proof of this can be seen by the fact that the great majority of the reformasi activists have become part of the government structure. And in the words of the Munir shortly before he was murdered by what is believed be an Army-BIN assassination in 2004, "they (former colleagues and activists) lost to the ongoing need to control the system. Many members of NGOs have become members of the legislature. Others have become party members. Intellectuals, too, have gone inside."

Budiman Sudjatmiko is a case in point. He was the founder and president of the staunchly anti-Soeharto, anti-ABRI, far-left Partai Rakyat Demokrasi (the People's Democratic Party) and was jailed for his public criticism of the ruling clique. Today, he is a member of the House of Representatives as a party functionary with the ultra-nationalist, pro-military PDI-P - the party of former president Megawati. During the 1999 and 2004 nationwide election campaigns, Megawati's campaign pledge was simple: She explicitly vowed to keep the integrity of NKRI (the politically charged acronym, which carries the connotation of strict military dominance, unity and maintenance of the status-quo), much to the delight of the military soldiers.

Formally speaking, the New Order is finished. But it survives in many prominent individuals and in the values of the people. Many people talk highly of reformasi, but paradoxically, still respect most aspects of the New Order. Every established political party has former New Order figures as prominent members. The New Order vision remains strong within them through their views on ideology and on society. The law, too, remains essentially New Order-based. Corruption is being dealt with using legal instruments that were never able to bring corruption to book during the New Order.

It is not a stretch to state the fact that the nearly the entire civil service, including teachers and police officers, as well as public prosecutors, remains under the control of old New Order forces - because it is part of their entire being. They treat all questions about the abuses of the past as an attack on themselves. A mutualism remains entrenched between the bureaucracy and the military.

Shortly after the reformasi movement and the end of the New Order regime, it was Soeharto's ill-gotten money (which the newly empowered elites envied and coveted) rather than the allegations of human rights abuse that became the crux of the debate. Human rights cases became a kind of political commodity for the various civilian elites. They were used to gain concessions from the military. Corruption became different. There was no resistance from the military there - because they too felt entitled to the former president's billions. As a result, anyone who wanted to be a democrat talked about corruption, even Soeharto's corrupt cronies. However, and crucially, "corruption" itself actually was no more than a buzz-word that really meant the redistribution of the former president's billions to a few more of the civilian elites and higher level military officers.

To be sure, there was some outrage by activists at the military abuses upon protesting middle-class students, but those very same students today greatly revere, and to a large extent venerate, their military heroes - another peculiarly Indonesian paradox. This includes all the patriotic, ultra-nationalistic symbols and slogans that the military regime of Soeharto, and to some extent Soekarno, created and imposed upon the nation's citizenry. These deeply ingrained attitudes are a product of their indoctrination over the course of their lives and their parents' lives.

At the beginning of 2000, a report by a special commission of inquiry (Indonesia's KOMNAS HAM [government human rights commission] in conjunction with the UN) into the human rights allegations in East Timor was published, which led to the suspension, then dismissal of General Wiranto from then-president Abdurrahman Wahid's cabinet and it seemed that ABRI - soon to be renamed TNI - was gravely discredited. Wiranto had been named in the report as the man who was responsible for the violence in East Timor. For a brief period, reformasi appeared to be echoed within the armed forces and a group of officers made it known that the reforms being contemplated would include the dismantling of territorial commands, which include total intervention of the military down to the village level.

But by the latter part of Wahid's presidency in mid-2001, the military had been able to consolidate and make a comeback. Far from downsizing the territorial command structure, it was actually increased in stealthy ways. A new territorial command was set up in Maluku, another in Aceh, and there is a very active one in Papua. In early 2001, Wahid wanted to abolish the decree that officially bans all forms of communism (created by Soeharto and his New Order technocrats in 1966 to suppress all forms of dissent) he was vilified by the military and there was an equally strong negative reaction from civil society groups and journalists. Yet it was that very decree that turned the military into an ultra-authoritarian power in the mid-1960s by aiming to control all ideology. Wahid was ousted a few months later in July 2001 and replaced with Megawati, which was clear evidence for all to see that the New Order values and the military as the sacred keeper of that flame were to remain the most powerful force in Indonesian politics.

It is the retired ultra right-wing general Ryamizard Ryacudu (also now a key man at Hanura), who has consistently repeated the refrain: "Like it or not, the glue of the nation nowadays is the TNI. If people want to dismantle the state, go ahead and abolish the territorial command units. If the Trikora military command in Irian Jaya (Papua province) were dissolved, Irian Jaya would be independent tomorrow." The TNI sees it as a sacred duty to hold the country together, to protect NKRI, the unitary state, and that is the bottom line.



Cribb, Robert; "Gangsters and Revolutionaries"; Asian Studies Association of Australia, 1991

Yawnghwue, Chow "Political-Military Authoritarianism", 2003

Daniel S. Lev, "The Role of the Army in Indonesian Politics", Pacific Affairs, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4 (Winter 1963/ 64). 

Crouch, Harold

For a comprehensive analysis of the 1965 coup (also called the Gestapu Affair), see Ulf Sundhaussen, "Golkar", esp. pp. 192-207; also Crouch, "The Army and Politics", esp. pp. 107-134.  Other sources include Ruth McVey and Benedict Anderson, "A Preliminary Analysis of the October 1, 1965 Coup in Indonesia" (Ithaca: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, 1971); W.F. Wertheim, "Indonesia Before and After the Untung Coup", Pacific Affairs, Vol. XXXIX, No.1-2 (Spring/Summer 1966), pp. 115-127; and Daniel S. Lev, "Indonesia 1965: The Year of the Coup", Asian Survey, Vol. VI, No.1 (February 1966), pp. 103-110.

The Indonesian Armed Forces, was up until 1998, known as Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia (ABRI). It is now Tentara Nasional Indonesia - TNI. Its forerunners were some of the powerful 1940s militias, the Japanese-inspired militia, the Javanese Volunteer Defense Force (PETA); the People's Security Agency (BKR), formed in August 1945; the People's Security Army (TKR), formed in October 1945; the Army of the Republic of Indonesia (TRI), formed in 1946; and the first incarnation of the TNI, formed in May 1947, which in 1965, became ABRI.


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