ad info

 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


For so long, the military has had a key function in civilian affairs. Now this is under scrutiny

By Jose Manuel Tesoro / Jakarta

Interview ABRI's "Thinking General" on the military's role in government

Three for the Future The military's new breed of leader

A WAR OF WORDS IS NO LONGER strange in Indonesia. Still, this particular argument was loud enough to raise the political temperature a few degrees. On June 22, labor leader Muchtar Pakpahan swore that he would lead thousands of workers into the streets to force President B.J. Habibie to resign or, at least, hold a "national reconciliation gathering." He warned of more protests if "our proposal is ignored." Jakarta garrison commander Maj.-Gen. Syafrie Syamsuddin responded: If Pakpahan's people press on, "I will cripple them." The morning of the promised rally, soldiers turned away workers on their way to the headquarters of Pakpahan's union and prevented those already inside from leaving. The protests didn't take place.

Indonesia's armed forces, often known by the acronym, ABRI, don't like demonstrations and the prospect of instability they bring. In recent weeks, students, workers and activists have held noisy protests throughout the country. Barely a day goes by without a demonstration. But on June 20, ABRI commander Gen. Wiranto asked the people to cease all "emotional expressions" that might distract from the current efforts to reconstruct the nation.

To hear a plea for calm from ABRI is not new. But in these turbulent times, it seemed somehow more insistent. Long before the economic and political turmoil that toppled Suharto, back when Indonesia felt it had the luxury of time, ABRI said that change must be carried out slowly and steadily. These days, as ABRI chief of social-political affairs Lt.-Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono puts it, "People want everything changed. Soon. Today, not even tomorrow". ABRI now seems to be trying to gain the initiative by proposing its own ideas for reformation - including its often controversial role in society.

ABRI's so-called "dual function," which in Indonesian is called dwifungsi, is a principle enshrined in law and practice. It designates the military as both the guardian of national security and a key participant in government. Concretely, that means ABRI is a political player and a supplier of civil servants while serving as the nation's army, navy, air force and police. Seventy-five seats in the 500-member parliament are reserved for ABRI. It also maintains a large representation in the nation's electoral college, which meets every five years. Officers can be found in the highest echelons of government. ABRI members also serve in all levels of local administrations.

The scale of such involvement, to some, is an obstacle to the development of civil society. "ABRI is hierarchical," says former opposition legislator Aberson Sihaloho. Its long association as both the instrument and foundation of Suharto's authoritarian system has tainted the service. An overly harsh military hand has been alleged in cases ranging from the murder of labor activist Marsinah in 1993 to, more recently, the kidnapping of activists and the Jakarta riots. "At this point, ABRI is the most disliked compared to any time in its history," says retired general Syamsuddin, who is also a member of the National Human Rights Commission.

Some argue dwifungsi gives many in ABRI an unavoidable interest in preserving the status quo - for wholesale reform could endanger their status and privilege. Aside from commercial interests, the armed forces run a number of foundations, the largest being the army's Kartika Eka Paksi Foundation, which holds interests in hotels and in the massive Sudirman Central Business District project in south Jakarta. At least a portion of Kartika Eka Paksi Foundation proceeds goes to housing for the military. ABRI maintains that business activities like these are necessary for soldiers' welfare. But it still raises eyebrows.

ABRI leadership has lately addressed its real and perceived shortcomings. "There has been a desire for reform for a long time," points out Syamsuddin. "Now we can talk about it." On June 18, ABRI socio-political chief Yudhoyono said that in the future, "ABRI wants Golkar [Indonesia's dominant political party] to be independent and to fight its own political battles." A week before his statement, the military presented its principles for reform. Among the suggestions: term limits for the chief executive, and a parliament that can check and balance the presidency.

These are important steps, but relatively small ones. Yudhoyono says ABRI would eventually like to see more civilian control over government. Yet the military is unlikely to retreat back to the barracks. For dwifungsi is not a rationalization; it is a full-fledged ideology. To hear soldiers and citizens explain the situation, without the military's close involvement in government, Indonesia could collapse into chaos. The centrifugal forces of region, race and religion - if left unchecked - could pull Indonesia asunder. "Diversity also means vulnerability," Yudhoyono told Asiaweek.

Worries about hastening dissolution should reform come too fast is one reason the military has moved cautiously to restructure its place in society. Or, it may be that ABRI hasn't yet figured out its future role. "In the last 15 years, they have not been strong," says Harry Tjan Silalahi of the Jakarta think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They have been too long under the tutelage of Suharto." There are also internal disagreements over the pace, direction and shape of reform. Dwifungsi has been so useful to the military that reform-minded generals may well run into resistance should they proceed faster. "We now have doubts whether the sincerity on the part of some officers is matched by their ability to translate their personal view into an effective policy of ABRI," says television political commentator Wimar Witular.

When power slipped from Suharto's grasp, responsibility for the stability of the country largely fell into the hands of the military. Its leaders appear now to be trying for a grip loose enough to give space for change but tight enough to keep the archipeligo from fragmenting. One day, ABRI maintains, it will let go - but only when it thinks society is ready. That day may not come soon enough for those who see the very fact that the military must make such a call as part of what keeps the country from maturing. In the final analysis, dwifungsi's critics are weaker. After all, the one with the upper hand is the one that has his fingers on the trigger.


Reconsidering the old battle plan

The men who will help determine the future of the military's role in Indonesian society are a new breed: open, professional and moderate. The three generals listed below are considered the main thinkers behind ABRI's reformist orientation. Their pace is slow and steady. Their challenge is to keep it that way as others want to step on the gas - or the brakes.

GEN. WIRANTO, 51: The commander-in-chief maintains a gruff exterior. But he is well-liked, both by the public and by close associates (he is a terrific karaoke singer). Respected for his military professionalism, he was long considered a political novice. No more. He showed great skill last month in managing a volatile presidential transition from Suharto to B.J. Habibie.

LT.-GEN. SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO, 48: The current chief of the socio-political section is one of the armed forces' top intellectuals. He has taught at the military college in Bandung, West Java, and has international experience.

LT.-GEN. AGUM GUMELAR, 52: Wiranto's classmate from the National Military Academy heads the Defense Ministry's National Resilience Institute, which trains high-ranking civil and military officials. With his years as an intelligence and special forces officer, including experience in Irian Jaya, Aceh and East Timor, he is a street-smart soldier. In May he said: "When it comes to demonstrations, we aren't facing an enemy but our own people."

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.