Sun, 02 Mar 2003

TNI's latest move a bid to fool the clock?

Imanuddin Razak Staff Writer The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Army chief of staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu fired a lethal shot on Feb. 20 when he addressed a media conference, suggesting that the military's security role be reinstated due to the threats of separatism and other security disturbances in the country.

His statement came as a surprise, as the issue involved the national military (TNI), but was stated by the chief of the Army, only one of the three forces that constitute TNI.

The statement also contradicted a 2000 decree issued by the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, which limits the military to a merely defensive role.

While the public had yet to recover from the first shock, the press got hold of the draft military bill, which included clauses that would give the Army a leading role in the military and the military chief authority to deploy military personnel in an emergency without the president's approval.

Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a member of the joint team preparing the draft and a researcher at the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI), warned against a powerful Army and a possible abuse of power by a TNI commander if the controversial issues were not reviewed by the House of Representatives.

The first chapter of the bill stipulates that the current military doctrine and operational strategy be based on its territorial function, which the TNI had abused to keep its grip on politics during the 32-year regime of the New Order.

Just last year on Aug. 11 the Assembly's annual session closed with an "outstanding and historic" recommendation that the military and the police quit their "granted" seats in the legislature beginning 2004. Servicemen who enjoyed allocated seats in the legislature without contesting in the elections for the last three decades, will be granted suffrage and will be required to leave the service should they choose to enter the political arena.

Should the House endorse the proposed chapter on the Army's role, the results of last year's annual Assembly session will become meaningless, as the revival of TNI's territorial function might also lead to the revival of its presence in both the House and the Assembly.

Although it has not yet become the unified stance of TNI, there has been growing concerns at its headquarters in Cilangkap of the need to reinstate its seats in both the House and the Assembly. This is because, politically, the TNI would need such seats as a legal entry point to become involved, and even play a significant role, in the decision making-processes at the legislative bodies.

TNI's fight to win back the above seats is interesting in the context of next year's general elections.

Although the next elections will still apply the proportional system, in which voters will vote for political parties and not for individuals as in the district system, the fact that several retired military officers have been tipped as potential candidates by some political parties for the 2004 elections, has provided many voting options to the public.

Retired generals like former TNI chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto, former commandant-general of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) Gen. (ret) Agum Gumelar, and incumbent Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are among the candidates proposed by several political parties, including the second largest Golkar Party.

The nomination of candidates with military backgrounds was likely a response to expressions from some people of a wish to return to the "better times" experienced under the "repressive" regime of Soeharto, also a retired general.

The failure of Soeharto's three civilian successors including the incumbent president Megawati Soekarnoputri to comply with the reform agenda, including the eradication of corruption, has added color to the situation, and may even narrow down the available menu of potential candidates.

The argument for establishing a constitutional basis to arm TNI with the authority to unilaterally mobilize troops in a state of emergency, has some grounds according to the military perspective -- the country is perceived to face not only the internal threat of separatism, but also external threats to its security.

Some top military officers have argued that TNI had always faced a difficult position each time it has had to deal with any security threats. Ever since human rights became more of an issue here, they have said troops have become haunted by the requirement that human rights should be a consideration in any actions undertaken.

Televised scenes of generals facing court trials over alleged rights abuses may have incited more doubts among troops of how they should act. The officers cite such an excuse as one reason for their sluggishness in responding to security threats.

The proposed controversial chapter in the military bill was also likely inspired by the move by U.S. President George W. Bush, who proposed a strategy to protect America from terrorism last year. This strategy included a proposal for a greater role of the U.S. military in domestic security, following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York, and its ensuing global campaign against terrorism.

While TNI has formally declared its commitment to reform, meaning that they would now adopt a non-political role, there is also an unwritten but widely accepted agreement among military elements that it would do all it could to maintain the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia. It has been internally accepted that TNI could take the initiative in measures necessary to prevent the country from disintegrating.

This was probably the reason why Ikrar signaled that such an overriding authority of the TNI chief to be able to make a unilateral decision on military deployment could lead to the deployment of troops to unseat a ruling president.

Again, a question should be addressed to the House and Assembly legislators as to whether they have the "arsenals" to trace and deal with the trappings of the bill, if it is forwarded to the House.

Otherwise, their failure to address this issue will only confirm the importance of having a district system in the elections after 2004 -- because the current proportional system would again prove to net legislators who are faithful to the political parties they represent, and not to their constituents.