Indonesia’s Military Resurgence

Indonesia’s Military Resurgence

The boys marched off to war one by one

Jokowi gambles on trading democracy for stability


In recent months, Indonesia’s embattled President Joko Widowo has overseen a remarkable resurgence of military power over Indonesian society.

Beginning in 1999, the military had been eased out of the dual role of dwifungsi – safeguarding the country against both external and internal threat – but the military now to some extent is resuming it. It has agreements in place to distribute fertilizer to farmers, guard prisons, and assist the national anti-narcotics agency. Talks are underway to also give it a role assisting the Corruption Eradication Commission and the ministries of transportation and fisheries.

“I want the military to be involved more in humanitarian missions in the future,” the Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said earlier this month. The military even seems to be turning against civil society, conducting a nationwide campaign to tell Indonesia’s youth that Indonesian NGOs and civil society organisations could be vehicles for foreign interests.

Jokowi is allowing this resurgence because he knows he is not in a position to confront powerful institutions. He is a civilian president with no money and almost no experience or networks in national politics. He is a president who doesn’t even control his own political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known by its Indonesian initials, PDI-P. His main source of support, the Indonesian public, is only heard in elections, scheduled for every five years.

As he took up his precarious position as Indonesia’s new chief executive last October, Jokowi seems to have assessed that the biggest threats to his presidency were the very institutions that are supposed to safeguard security and democracy: the military, the police and political parties like the PDI-P. He immediately started making concessions to them, hoping these concessions would win him sufficient stability to push through reforms in other areas: tackling the oil mafia, the illegal logging industry, and foreign threats while improving the social security net. These concessions are Jokowi’s gamble.

Last December, Jokowi announced an 18 percent increase in the annual police budget. In April this year, after balking at making Budi Gunawan the leader of the National Police, Jokowi acceded to the wishes of PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri to allow Gunawan, her close personal friend and ally,to be appointed as deputy police chief. This move seemed aimed at pleasing Megawati and senior police rather than pleasing the public, as Gunawan had previously been under investigation for corruption. Earlier this month, Jokowi even stood by while the corrupt national police asserted their right to ‘help’ select new commissioners for the Corruption Eradication Commission. These concessions have allowed his relationship with PDIP and senior police to remain on manageable terms.

In November 2014, Jokowi approved military plans to build two new army commands: one in Papua and the other in Sulawesi.  His concessions to the military are an attempt to befriend an institution that has played a role in the early departures of two previous civilian presidents: Habibie in 1999 and Wahid in 2001.

These concessions are also an attempt to empower the military as a counterbalance to the increasingly arrogant police force. However one think tank has warned that the more the military extend their influence in civilian life, “The greater their political clout and the harder it will be to extract them, especially given that they are effectively immune from prosecution under civil law.”

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