Tue, 14 May 2002

Notes on Endriartono

It is now almost certain that Army Gen. Endriartono Sutarto will replace Navy Adm. Widodo A.S. as the chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI). The announcement by the leadership of the House of Representatives on Monday that President Megawati Soekarnoputri has nominated Endriartono virtually ended months of speculation about who would take charge of TNI.

Only one name was submitted to the House leadership, whose constitutional role in this affair is limited simply to acknowledging the nomination. They do not have the power to approve or disapprove the President's choice for TNI commander. And even if for some reason the House opted not to endorse the nomination, Megawati could still go ahead and install Endriartono as TNI chief.

The House's leadership, however, does have the right to broach certain subjects and express reservations even as it acknowledges the nomination. The House's biggest contribution in this process would then be to raise questions about the commitment of the TNI, and therefore of its new chief, to national political reform, including the TNI's own internal reforms.

In all frankness, the TNI's commitment to reform, at least as perceived by the public, has been waning, making it very much worthwhile to raise this concern ahead of the upcoming changing of the guard. As the most powerful political institution in the country, the TNI's cooperation and participation in the endeavor to turn the nation into a more humane, just and prosperous civil society is imperative. Without it, we might as well kiss reform good-bye.

Why should we extract a new commitment to reform from the new TNI leadership? As we mark the fourth anniversary of the collapse of the Soeharto regime this week, which also marked the start of the reform era in 1998, we have every reason to be concerned that Indonesia has barely made any progress, in spite of the numerous sacrifices made during the process.

While it would not be fair to blame only the TNI for this lack of progress, so many of its actions over the past year appear to be anti-reformist that there is cause for concern.

The process of Endriartono's nomination itself, for example, shows that the Army, the largest, most powerful and politically oriented of the three armed forces, is flexing its muscles and once again actively playing power politics.

The nomination of the current Army chief of staff for the top TNI post defies the consensus reached at the start of the reform process that the job would be rotated between the three services. By everyone's reckoning, and if the TNI (and thus the Army) was committed to this consensus, it should be the Air Force's turn.

Endriartono's formal nomination came more than six months after President Megawati announced her intention to replace Widodo. We know for a fact that top TNI generals ganged up to prevent the President from exercising her prerogative late last year; only now are they letting her have her way.

We may recall that TNI generals in July defied an order from then president Abdurrahman Wahid to arrest his political opponents. While that move was lauded because the order was undemocratic, the episode served as a reminder that the TNI still has a great deal of power, which it can use either for good or bad.

In Maluku, local military leaders have openly defied orders from the Civil Emergency Administration in Ambon to take firm measures against law breakers. The TNI leadership in Jakarta appears to have capitalized on President Megawati's weaknesses to ensure itself a virtually free hand once again in places like Aceh and Papua, where it has a long history of gross human rights abuses.

The TNI leadership has also been less than cooperative in the search for justice where senior officers are implicated, such as in the human rights tribunals in East Timor, the trials in Aceh and the pending investigations of the 1998 shootings of students in Jakarta.

And now, with the ongoing international obsession with weeding out terrorists, the TNI has even lobbied for legislation that would virtually hand back many of the draconian powers it once enjoyed but lost after 1998 because they had been widely abused.

All of these things suggest that if TNI is not backtracking on reform, it is holding back where it could have helped to speed up the process. If overall reform has been slow, we know that the TNI's reluctance to give up political power and to leave the political arena account for some of the delays.

The House leadership, like the rest of the nation, might not have any say in the selection of the next TNI chief, that being the constitutional prerogative of the President, but the House could send a strong message to Megawati that the new TNI chief must renew the military's commitment to reform and the goal of a civil society. This is not only for the good of the nation, but also for the TNI itself.