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Continuation of military reforms with new military chief

Updated On: Feb 17, 2006

This week, Air Marshal Djoko Suyanto was sworn in by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the new Indonesian Military (“Tentara Nasional Indonesia” or TNI) commander.

President Yudhoyono has ordered military administrators to keep out of practical politics. He pointed out, "In this transitional era, I know it is still tempting for generals, marshals and admirals to enter the political arena." He added, "Whether you're aware of it or not, we're shaping history and can't afford to have (the old practice) recur… This is the time when it requires persistence and neutrality from all the TNI's top brass not to get dragged back, playing with fire, into political activities."

President Yudhoyono's comments were made at a time when there is a debate whether to allow military personnel the vote in the legislative and presidential elections in 2009. Some are concerned that the military might reassert political power if it be allowed to vote.

The military has traditionally seen itself as holding “dual function” which means that the military has both a defense and domestic political role. However, reforms since the fall of Suharto in 1998 have gradually chipped away at the military's powers. Since 2004, the military was not allowed to be represented at the People's Consultative Assembly. (In return, the military personnel were promised voting rights for the 2009 elections).

Antara (15 Feb) reported outgoing TNI chief General Endriartono Sutarto as saying that he supported the idea of soldiers being allowed to vote because it was the individual right of every citizen in a democracy. "Otherwise, it's not a complete democracy. But the soldiers need to see this right as an individual right as a citizen, not as a tool to influence or even coerce fellow soldiers and members of the public”, added General Endriartono Sutarto. Endriartono said that he was not contradicting President Yudhoyono as the soldiers could remain neutral by voting independently.

Former Golkar Party leader Akbar Tanjung has also told the press, "I think, members of the TNI should be granted the voting right for the 2009 general elections.”

However, Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono pointed out that the military had to respect Yudhoyono's order to improve the welfare of the soldiers before they could be granted the right to vote. Juwono said on Monday that the process to create a politically independent military that would not be swayed by interference in the voting process would be a long one. He added, “With socioeconomic conditions and the looming possibility of intervention, it's better to delay it until 2014. Then again, it all depends on the House and others (in the TNI) if they want to have it allowed by 2009. It's a political decision.”

Air Marshal Djoko Suyanto has pledged to continue the reforms initiated by his predecessor to steer the military out of politics and to subject the military to civilian control. He will also repair the tattered image of the military because of its poor human rights records in Papua, Aceh and East Timor(Timorseceded from Indonesia). He is likely to be firm on pushing for the divestment of the military businesses (which has to be completed by 2009).

Military analyst Sukardi Rinakit said Marshal Djoko was not known to be a taskmaster but would command respect because of his clean track record. 'However, some people are sceptical about his ability to handle other branches of the armed forces because of his air force background and whether he would be decisive,' he said.

Sources:

Completion of TNI Reforms Should not Wait Until 2009, Antara News, 15 February 2006

Yudhoyono tells military to keep out of politics, The Jakarta Post, 14 February 2006

New Military Chief Djoko Likely to Continue Reforms, The Straits Times, 13 February 2006

Akbar: TNI Members Should Be Allowed to Vote in 2009 Election, Antara News, 15 February 2006

Indonesian Military Wants Political Rights Restored, JapanEconomic Newswire, 15 February 2006