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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

OCTOBER 8, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 40

Walking on a Tightrope
Unrest against the military revives the debate over civil and military power in Indonesia. But a bigger question is: Will disillusionment and division jeopardize the presidential poll?

Another victim of Jakarta's continuing political turmoil as anti-military protesters take to the streets
Kemal Jufri for Asiaweek
The three-and-a-half-hour meeting was held in a museum over tea and snacks. Afterwards, the participants - the leaders of Indonesia's seven largest political parties, top generals, a few bureaucrats and a businessman - beamed for the cameras. Their spokesman, Muslim intellectual Nurcholish Madjid, delivered a statement: All had agreed on the importance of the upcoming November session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), when the country's next president will be selected, and would strive to make it happen. "All actions aimed at foiling the session," he said, "will be seen as a negation and even a betrayal of the people's aspirations."

The tidy and civil Sept. 28 meeting, held at the invitation of armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto, made it seem as if everything was just fine. But had that actually been the case, there would have been no need for the meeting. In a country rocked by successive economic, political, even foreign-policy crises, the big question is who - if anyone - is in control. Just days before, Jakarta had been convulsed by violent protests against the long-dominant role of the armed forces in Indonesian society. On Sept. 24, President B.J. Habibie delayed signing a controversial bill outlining the military's powers in a state of emergency. Its passage through parliament had sparked the student-led unrest, which claimed eight lives and shut down much of Jakarta's business district for two days. One more student died in Lampung, South Sumatra, on the day of the meeting.

Indonesia: Walking on a Tightrope
Unrest against the military revives the debate over civil and military power in Indonesia. But a bigger question is: Will disillusionment and division jeopardize the presidential poll?
• When Enemies Become Allies
• A Battle Being Fought
• Back in the Thick of It

China: Right Down the Middle
On the economy, Jiang Zemin wants it fast and slow
• Party Time - for Some

Taiwan: Shocks and Aftershocks
The political effects of the eartquake will be more enduring

Malaysia's Electoral Pivot
Barisan and the opposition court the Chinese

Korea: A Borderline Decision
Behind North Korea's move to push its sea frontier south

Myanmar: In Exile and Powerless
Still, Myanmar's dissidents keep up the fight

The View from Australia
Outrage - and some second-guessing - over Australia's involvement in East Timor (10/01/99)

Keeping the Peace
A measure of calm returns to East Timor with the arrival of international troops. But the real challenge is not bringing peace but keeping it (10/01/99)

On the Firing Line
Habibie gives in to international pressure over foreign intervention - but his problems are far from over (09/24/99)

Step Forward, With Caution
Peacekeepers meet little resistance in Timor, but plenty of territory remains beyond their control

Breaking news from Southeast Asia

The genesis of the latest troubles go back to May, when the Defense Ministry, which Wiranto also heads, submitted a new security bill to parliament. The armed forces, known as the TNI in Indonesia, wanted an updated legal framework to deal with separatism and unrest in various provinces. That was what they were facing in Aceh, Ambon, Irian Jaya and, until recently, East Timor. (On Sept. 27, while the U.N. Human Rights Commission was voting for an inquiry into alleged atrocities in East Timor, the Indonesian military formally surrendered responsibility for security in the territory to the Australian-led international peacekeepers.) In August, a month before it was to be dissolved, the parliament agreed to deliberate the bill, despite warnings that the public was not sympathetic to anything that had to do with giving the military more powers, even in emergency situations.

The existing state-security law, passed in 1959, was fairly draconian. In a province or area under military emergency, the TNI could restrict civilian movement, the use of open spaces, trade and transport, communications, even performances and meetings. The initial draft of the new law was not significantly more liberal. It gave the TNI the right to call up civilians for military duty, ban demonstrations, gag the media and isolate troublesome individuals.

Legislators revised around 93% of the bill, claims Muchyar Yara, deputy secretary-general of the ruling Golkar party, which has a majority in the outgoing parliament. Some checks were introduced, such as the requirement that the president receive "approval from parliament" before declaring a state of emergency in an area. Time limits for civilian emergencies (three months) and military emergencies (six months) were added; so was the provision that citizens could sue for any loss resulting from abuse of power during a state of emergency.

But no matter what the parliament did to the law, the public was in no mood to accept it. "This law could lead to a military society," says Bambang Wijoyanto, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. He questions the need for a special law when various other regulations already cover security issues. His charge: the law is designed only to provide legitimacy for military brutality. In early September, he warned that the bill's passage would cause civil disturbances. Many also questioned why this parliament, not considered representative of either the people or reform, was passing such an important bill at the last minute.

Protests began in earnest in Indonesia's major cities a week before the bill's scheduled passage. The unrest peaked on Sept. 23, the day the bill made it through parliament, as youths barricaded themselves inside a university campus in Jakarta's business district. They hurled Molotov cocktails at soldiers, who responded with gunfire. The unrest continued the next day on the capital's main thoroughfare, Sudirman Avenue. As the noonday call to Friday prayers sounded, riot police were firing shots into air thickened with the smoke from a burning vehicle. It was not until late that night that the situation was brought under control. All told, more than 100 people were injured.

Was it a miscalculation? The military had strongly pushed parliament to handle the bill, but in the process, it provided the divided student movement with a unifying cause. "Issues about the military tend to unite students," says Ichlasul Amal, rector of Jogjakarta's Gadjah Mada University. Young Indonesians, who have been facing down riot squads since the days surrounding former president Suharto's fall in 1998, feel a special distrust toward the armed forces. "We are tired of being oppressed by military," says 26-year-old activist Sarbini. "The only thing we can do is conduct demonstrations. At least our moral message can be heard by the people."

Ironically, the military now is very different than under Suharto. In the past year, Wiranto has launched successive reforms to increase military professionalism, beginning with education and training (see story page 22). On Sept. 24, he pleaded for more understanding: "When the bill was drafted, there was never any intention to grant excessive power to the government or maintain its power, or to seek military dominance." But many suspect that the first application of the new bill (which only awaits Habibie's signature) will not be in the archipelago's outlying territories but in Jakarta - to clamp down on dissent during what is expected to be a very turbulent presidential election.

On Oct. 1, delegates to the MPR, which comprises elected MPs and appointed provincial and sectoral representatives, are to be sworn in. Wiranto and his deputies have warned that the election session, scheduled for between Nov. 1 and 10, could be marred by riots. Some of the possible elements were already visible during the recent unrest, from student radicals to the white-robed "Defenders of Islam" flashing knives.

With little more than a month left, there are no clear alliances between any of the four major factions in the MPR and thus no definite sign by the political leadership on how the next government will look. Instead, there is the prospect of an open power struggle between leading presidential contender Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar, Muslim groups and the military. This is, after all, the first time in its history that Indonesia is attempting a presidential election in a democratic manner. Gadjah Mada's Amal admits: "We have not yet had the experience of choosing a president, from Independence until now."

The maneuvering continues unabated. Shocking supporters, the PDI-P recently handed a key elected post to the military (see story below). Influential Muslim cleric Abdurrahman Wahid, supposedly a Megawati ally, accepted nomination as presidential candidate by a coalition of Islam-linked parties dubbed the "Axis Force." Golkar has so far stuck to Habibie as its candidate - despite the East Timor debacle and the ongoing Bank Bali scandal - and Wiranto as his running mate (Wiranto, however, has yet to accept the arrangement).

Division in the civilian leadership is reflected by dissension within the armed forces. Not all agree with Wiranto's dilution of the military's "dual functions," or dwifungsi, which grants the armed forces a role in both political and national-security matters. "There are some who adamantly want to adhere to dwifungsi because they think: Take the dual function away and it's not the TNI anymore," says retired general Hasnan Habib. That is why, he argues, continuing public pressure on the military is necessary. "If you leave it only to the TNI to become ready for reform, they'll never be ready."

The opposition parties are now working on whether the presidential election can be moved up to mid-October, to shorten this dangerous period of insecurity when no one appears to be in full control of their own forces, much less the country. In the meantime, the military remains a key player in the political equation. "All forces realize that military power cannot be fully subordinated to civil authority," notes Amal. The best Indonesia can hope for at the moment, he says, is equality between military and civilian power. But if the political elite fail to agree on who should be Indonesia's next leader, and do so peacefully, then the military might just end up deciding for them.

With reporting by Dewi Loveard/Jakarta

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