Wed, 05 Mar 2003

Civilian supremacy

One would have thought that the question about civilian supremacy over the military has already been settled, because that is what Indonesia needs in order to build a truly democratic society. The national consensus has been that the military, which for many years enjoyed wide-ranging powers up until 1998, must now be brought under the control of the elected civilian government.

In our envisaged democratic system, the military is accountable to the president, as the TNI supreme commander, who in turn is accountable to the people.

The draft of legislation on the Indonesian Military (TNI), prepared by the Ministry of Defense, has now unnecessarily reopened that debate, again consuming our time and energy.

The draft, the content of which was leaked to the media last week, shows a new attempt by the TNI to regain the political power it enjoyed for more than 30 years during the Soeharto regime. One contentious article in the draft bill states that the TNI chief has the power to mobilize troops in times of emergency, only needing to notify the president after 24 hours.

This article clearly violates the principle of civilian supremacy, for it allows the TNI chief to subvert the power of the president. Many fear that this article could be used to lend legitimacy to a TNI coup against an elected government.

And it goes against the Constitution, which states that the president has the power to declare a war, and therefore to order the deployment of troops, and even then only with the approval of the House of Representatives.

By inserting this particular clause in the draft legislation, the TNI wants to have it both ways. It wants to be the one who calls the shots as well as the one who pulls the trigger. Since the TNI is not subject to democratic checks and balances, this law gives it an omnipotent power that not even the president enjoys.

Fortunately, this is only a draft bill, which is still in the very early stage of the process. It has not even reached the House of Representatives.

This draft was prepared by TNI officers at the Ministry of Defense who were assisted by a number of civilian experts. Looking at the content of the draft, it appears to have been written in the spirit of promoting the interests of the TNI, which are not necessarily in the best interests of the nation.

The article retaining the territorial function and structure of the Army is further evidence of its antireform spirit. Although the TNI will no longer have representatives sitting in the legislatures after 2004, it still wields immense political powers through its huge network of territorial commands.

It remains unclear where this draft is going to next.

The Ministry of Defense's team apparently has two options, to let the government pick it up and present it to the House; or to seek sponsors from friends in the House of Representatives, who would present it to the House as their own initiative.

Given the strong antireform spirit of the draft, neither the government nor the House members should take over the bill from the Ministry of Defense's hands. Instead, the process should be restarted. They should write their own draft, keeping in mind the need to ensure civilian supremacy, and bring in TNI experts only to advise them on military technical matters.

As time wasting as this debate about civilian supremacy may seem, this episode has given us a rare glimpse of the mind-set of many of the officers currently in charge of the TNI. Their attitude toward reform and their strong contempt for the civilian government are simply disturbing.

This is unfortunate because the TNI has been very progressive in conducting internal reform these last five years, at times even outpacing its civilian counterparts. Witness its decision last year to end its representation in the national and regional legislatures as of 2004, instead of 2009 as originally scheduled.

Having gone this far in the process of internal TNI reform, it is sad to see that the progress it has made in the last five years is now being squandered or rolled back. If the bill is allowed to proceed beyond its present stillborn stage, it will be a tragic and sad loss for both the TNI and the nation. It will probably mark the end of reform.