Tue, 08 Feb 2000

A picture of panic

Many political observers say that the social change Indonesia is going through is happening very slowly because there are so many elements of the old Soeharto regime still playing a role. There are others who are afraid of drastic change, while some are panic-stricken at the mere thought of change. With all this to contend with, it is little wonder that the effort for social change is only halfhearted.

Included in the second group are some senior military officers who claim that certain parties are trying to push the Indonesian Military (TNI) into a corner. An overreaction or a case of the jitters? It could be both. But the accusation is nothing new, it is a tune that has been played before. Except this time the tune is being played at a deafening volume after the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in East Timor announced that there were indications that some former commanding officers were involved in the campaign of destruction in the former Indonesian province after a self-determination poll there last year. The name of Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Gen. Wiranto is said to be on the top of the list. President Abdurrahman Wahid's recent request that Wiranto resign from his position in the Cabinet has made the political situation more laughable.

On the other side of the picture, people with a good memory will recall that until last year, Wiranto, then Armed Forces commander, used to assume the role of the injured party whenever someone demanded the truth behind the many disappearances of local people every time the military crushed a riot. Among the many instances in which people disappeared are the bloody tragedy at Jakarta's Tanjung Priok Port in 1984 and during a clash between security officers and unarmed demonstrators in 1991 at a public cemetery in East Timor. At both places local people said hundreds of people were killed or mysteriously disappeared.

Wiranto lashed out at the demands, saying people just wanted to tarnish the military's image. The reasoning behind people's demands was crystal clear, and it was their basic right to know what happened to their loved ones.

Today, with some former commanding officers allegedly involved or at least knowledgeable about the plundering of the former Portuguese colony, many of them have resorted to claiming that they are synonymous with TNI as a whole. Their team of lawyers is called a TNI team and it implies that it is the military as a force that will be brought to trial, not the officers, who should accept responsibility for their acts.

For the people the tack is nothing but an attempt to mislead them, for they are fully aware that in every civilized country there must be equal justice under the law. Indonesians, even those with the most basic education, know that TNI, which was established in 1945 just weeks after the proclamation Indonesian independence, is not synonymous with any officers, whatever their rank.

The way of thinking of some officers is a legacy of the Soeharto military regime, which corrupted them with unlimited power as long they defended the state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution as well as securing Soeharto's reelection every five years. Military top brass then gave their soldiers the freedom to brutalize innocent people just because they had different opinions from Soeharto, to strong-arm them into voting for the Golkar Party in every general election, to interfere in labor disputes -- one woman labor leader was murdered in East Java during one such incident -- and kidnap political activists. It appears that what made a good general back then was the number of innocent people killed or intimidated.

Due to the recent change in the military doctrine, the propaganda is not selling well to the public or even to the TNI, whose leaders have declared that they respect the supremacy of law and in Wiranto's case, "Any decision by the President."