Mon, 03 Jan 2000

TNI: A loose cannon

Maj. Gen. Sudradjat's interpretation of the 1945 Constitution has confirmed what many people in this country fear: The Indonesian Military (TNI) has become a loose cannon which is accountable to no one but itself. In an interview with Republika daily last week, the TNI chief spokesman says Article 10 of the Constitution does not automatically make the president supreme commander of the military the way it has always been assumed, or in the same way that the American president is.

Sudradjat points out that Article 10, which states "The president holds the highest power over the Army, the Navy and the Air Force", does not give the president the right to interfere in the internal affairs of the military. The president's power, he argues, is limited to appointing the chief of staff of the three services, "in consultation with the TNI leadership".

In order to understand Sudradjat's remarks, one must look at the background and context in which they were made. They came amid a flurry of rumors, and of course denials, of an impending coup d'etat by TNI last week. It came amid signs of a rift between President Abdurrahman Wahid and Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen. Wiranto, who until last October was TNI commander but remains influential in the military to this day. It came at a time when TNI was coming under strong pressure to let its past and present leaders face investigation in connection with human rights violations in East Timor in September, and to face trial for atrocities in Aceh.

Sudradjat argues that Soeharto, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years until May 1998, had abused the supreme commander status vested upon him by the Constitution by turning the military into his tool of repression. Learning from that experience, Sudradjat has called for a new interpretation of Article 10 that would prevent the military from becoming an accomplice to oppression of the people in the future. From now on, he says, TNI will give its loyalty to the people and the state, but not automatically to the President.

Sudradjat's argument with regard to Article 10 of the Constitution sounds plausible, but for one very big omission: the question of accountability. To whom is TNI accountable? If the president is supreme commander, the question becomes irrelevant because the military would then be put firmly under a person who is, at least by constitution, accountable to the people. But if he is not supreme commander, then we have virtually removed any mechanism that allows the public to indirectly control the military, and it becomes accountable to no one but itself.

With troops and weapons at its disposal, plus the political power it has jealously guarded, TNI has become an omnipotent political force unequaled even by the highest state institutions. The president and vice president, members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and House of Representatives (DPR), are all subject to public control and scrutiny, including the elections that they have to go through every five years. To suggest that the president does not have control over the three services is tantamount to placing the military beyond the Constitution, let alone the law.

This lack of accountability on the part of the military is already clearly felt today, with the nation having technical and legal difficulties as well as political obstacles in bringing to court perpetrators of human rights violations within the military. Not a single senior TNI officer has been brought to court to this day for past abuses clearly committed by the military. More than a year since Gen. Wiranto personally apologized for atrocities his men committed in Aceh, only a handful of junior soldiers have been convicted in military courts, mostly for violations of procedures. The current investigation of human rights violations in East Timor has been stalled, with TNI putting up a big legal fight on the pretext of defending the human rights of its officers. If worst comes to the worst, TNI would use its infamous line of absolving guilt: That everything it did was in the line of duty, that if anyone was to be held responsible, it should be the president -- Soeharto or Habibie -- who gave the orders.

TNI, or ABRI as it was known until April, however could not have been that naive not to know what it was doing. It reaped immense political and economic benefits from its complicity with the powers that be -- Soeharto, Habibie and Golkar -- and at times, as in Aceh and East Timor, played the leading role in this conspiracy. To completely absolve TNI of its past actions would be tantamount to literally letting it get away with murder.

For what it is worth, Sudradjat's remarks have opened up a new debate about TNI's role in society, particularly about the interpretation of the Constitution's Article 10. Since the nation is in the process of reviewing the Constitution, reformist forces should seize on this opportunity to raise questions about TNI's accountability, which is essential in any democracy. They must find a way to bring this loose cannon firmly under control once and for all.