Tue, 31 Oct 2000

Don't let military rule Indonesian politics, says Daniel Lev

JAKARTA (JP): A noted observer of Indonesian affairs, Daniel S. Lev, warned civilian politicians on Monday against allowing the military to dominate politics, saying this would hamper the democratization process in the country.

"Allowing the military to be in charge of politics is very dangerous as we want politics without guns, oppression or violence," Lev, a professor at the University of Washington, said on the sidelines of a military discussion held by the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI) here.

He said there was a tendency among some political parties to alter the direction of the reform movement and collaborate with the military.

As an example, Lev pointed to how Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri made numerous visits to military installations.

"Maybe she should put an end to such activities. Pictures of her riding atop armored vehicles or opening the law firm of Lt. Gen. (ret) Hendropriyono... she is supposed to keep a distance from the military since Indonesians still see it as a symbol (of closeness).

"These are the questions that Ibu Mega herself must answer."

The People's Consultative Assembly decided in its Annual Session in August to allow the military to retain its seats in the legislative body until 2009, defying demands from the public to phase the armed forces out of politics.

Lev, the author of The Transition to Guided Democracy: Indonesian Politics, 1957-1959, which takes a look at the military's initial steps into politics, said the military used to serve the government's interests.

"Even (the late) great General Abdul Harris Nasution treated the military as a political organization," Lev said, referring to the Indonesian Military's founding father, who introduced the military's involvement in politics through the dual function doctrine.

LIPI senior researcher Anas Saidi noted that militaristic values and symbols were deeply ingrained in the daily lives of the people.

"It's hard to erase such a military mind-set. Vivid examples such as military-style uniforms used by the political party task forces, the student regiments, the obligation to join flag raising ceremonies and the way people are used to resorting to violence in dealing with problems... all of these things require a cultural revolution (to erase)," Anas told attendants of the discussion.

Lev said the issuance of the July 5, 1959, presidential decree was the starting point of the military's intervention in politics.

"The initiator was none other than General Nasution, not president Sukarno after all. The decree was a move to counter the threat of communism at that time," Lev said.

The access to nondefensive affairs also allowed the military to engage in business activities, according to Lev.

"Back in the 1950s all the nationalized Dutch properties were divided among soldiers. That also confirmed their grip on business activities," he said.

Nasution, Lev said, believed that a good leader must not be too democratic. "After all, he was a professional soldier and his loyalty remained with the military."

"Nasution never thought this idea of his was wrong. We know now that it is (wrong), because this nation has had to pay the consequences for over 40 years, and therefore the civilian politicians must not repeat the same mistake."

Lev noted that concrete steps must be taken to reform the military and mend its relations with civil society.

He said these steps should include the transfer of domestic security to the police, the reestablishment of military institutions, a better selection process for promising officers and the removal of the military's territorial grip, which goes from the provincial level all the way down to the subdistrict level.

"I think the most crucial part is its territorial function, because there lies its strong economic and political links.

"If possible, it (this removal) must start the first thing in the morning," Lev said. (edt)