It now looks almost certain the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) will extend the political role of the Indonesian Military (TNI) beyond 2004, the original deadline promised by leaders of the 1998 reform movement that included the likes of President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri and Assembly Speaker Amien Rais. As the MPR enters the last days of its Annual Session, a draft decree retaining the TNI/National Police faction in the Assembly until 2009 already has been endorsed at the MPR commission level. Barring any last-minute surprises, the draft decree from Commission B will be endorsed by the entire Assembly on Friday.
At the same time, Commission A, which is dealing with constitutional amendments, is debating whether to write TNI's political role into the country's Constitution. The fate of this proposal is less certain, but an endorsement will give greater permanence to what many people have regarded as a national stigma. While an MPR decree can be reviewed every year, an article in the Constitution will be harder to repeal.
If the TNI's political role is written into the 1945 Constitution, this Assembly, which was formed through democratic elections on a platform of political reform, will go down in history as the one that gave constitutional legitimacy to the military's role in politics. Not even Soeharto, whose 32-year tyrannical regime was largely propped up by the military exercising its massive political clout, went this far.
During Soeharto's time, the military's "dual function" in defense and politics was supported by a national consensus -- whatever that means -- and formalized through an MPR decree and a law. It was never written into the Constitution. It is therefore a huge irony the current MPR should want to maintain or even elevate TNI's political role, when it is largely agreed that giving the military political power in the first place is one of the main reasons why the country finds itself in the political mess it is in today.
Few politicians have bothered to satisfactorily explain why the major factions in the MPR have agreed to extend the military's lease on political life. The most credible -- incredible is probably a better word -- explanation, given by some members of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), is that it is a political "compromise" in return for members of the military and police waiving their right to vote in elections. One suspects behind-the-scenes arm-twisting and horse trading during deliberations at the MPR.
Whatever the reasons, this confirms TNI remains a strong political group and is effectively exercising its power to steer the MPR into agreeing to extend its political role. This episode should also ring the alarm that TNI has no intention of leaving the political arena at all, and that it has just bought itself another five years to plan its next move.
Whether the TNI's role in politics is extended to 2009 or is written into the 1945 Constitution, the MPR has betrayed the nation, which went through so much and made great sacrifices in pushing for political reform. Most of the 700 MPR members forget they owe their positions to the student-led reform movement, which defied the military's might in 1998 to put an end to Soeharto's 32-year dictatorship. It was then widely believed that ending the military's role in politics was essential to building a real and long-lasting democracy and civil society in Indonesia.
We reserve our greatest disappointment however for the nation's top three leaders -- Abdurrahman, Megawati and Amien -- who on Nov. 10, 1998, took over the leadership of the reform movement from the students to give it a wider mass appeal and direction. The three, joined by Yogyakarta Sultan Hamengkubuwono X during a meeting at Abdurrahman's residence in Ciganjur, South Jakarta, were not in public office at the time but were widely respected public figures not tainted by the corrupt regime.
We still remember vividly when they read out the historic Ciganjur Declaration after their meeting, giving impetus to the reform movement. On the point of the military's political role, they managed to calm the students, who insisted the military immediately leave the political arena, by promising TNI would be phased out of politics by 2004. Abdurrahman, Megawati and Amien have not even bothered to publicly explain their position throughout the current debate, let alone carry out their promise.
The day the MPR decrees the extension of TNI's role in politics to 2009 or writes that role into the 1945 Constitution, is the day the nation will feel a deep sense of betrayal by its leaders.