Wed, 23 Feb 2000

Observers call for review of laws on TNI role in politics

JAKARTA (JP): The House of Representatives and the People's Consultative Assembly came under fire on Tuesday for lacking concrete moves to restrict Indonesian Military (TNI) from politics.

Military and political observers Salim Said, Mochtar Pabottingi and Syamsuddin Haris were of the opinion that the legislative bodies should consider reviewing all laws and regulations which justify the military play a sociopolitical role and thus hamper civilian authority.

"This is the right moment, thanks to the conducive political situation, for both the House and Assembly to determine the role and position of TNI," Salim told a discussion on the civilian- military relations at the National Institute of Science (LIPI).

Salim said he was surprised to see the House remain silent about the law on the role and authority of Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) in the national defense No. 20/1982, which is still effective.

The law, enacted during the heyday of former president Soeharto, underscores the military's sociopolitical role to maintain national stability. It justifies the participation of the military "as part of the national resources" in the government.

Salim said the law prompted the New Order regime's characteristic practice of giving military officers civilian posts "for the sake of national stability and unity".

Demands for the military to take a backseat role intensified following the fall of Soeharto, who crowned himself with a five- star military award, in May 1998.

The calls continued during the short tenure of Soeharto's successor B.J. Habibie. The government of Habibie, whose term ended last October, contributed to the diminishing of the military's dual function with the enactment of the election law that cuts TNI seats in the House to 38 from 75.

An Assembly decree stipulates that no House seat will be allocated for TNI, whose members do not vote, starting from the 2004 general election.

Incumbent President Abdurrahman Wahid, billed as a representative of the civilian authority, broke a long Indonesian military tradition by giving strategic positions in the institution to non-Army officers. In yet another surprise, he recently suspended Gen. Wiranto, former TNI commander, from his post in the Cabinet.

Salim suggested that the two legislative bodies give TNI no chance to draft a new law for itself and offer it for public approval.

"It's the people who will decide on the military's future role. Don't let the military make a grand design for their own role and position in the future. Never repeat past mistakes," Salim said.

Syamsuddin said that President Abdurrahman's government could not force a swift change because it would spark strong reaction from the military.

He hailed Abdurrahman's efforts to distance himself from the military, despite the fact that he included three Army generals in his Cabinet.

"It should be deemed as a gradual step to total elimination of the military from politics."

Mochtar Pabottingi said military involvement in politics could not be separated from the country's history which was "opaque and full of distortions."

"To start a new tradition that sustains military-free politics, we have to weed the country's long history.

"We used to hear that TNI glues the nation's unity, but the fact is, we can see it clearly now, that they are leading the country to disintegration," he said, giving an example of a military campaign in the past.

He warned that there might be factions, although insignificant, within the military which did not want to compromise with recent developments.

Syamsuddin expressed his guarded optimism that the current government would complete "the mission to return the military to its barracks". (emf)