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Jun 17, 2014 | Commentary

Currently, Indonesia faces a crucial political event in its upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for July 2014 and consisting of two presidential tickets – Joko Widodo (Jakarta’s governor) and Jusuf Kalla running against the controversial retired General Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Hatta Rajasa. Having two tickets in the election means that it will be conducted in one round.

Relatedly, Indonesia’s outgoing President Susilo B. Yudhoyono recently recently reprimanded the role and position of the army/police with regards to the political issue of military professionalism. Early in June 2014, the president issued a strongly worded statement directed at the high-rank military officers on the need for the army and national police to remain neutral in politics, stating, “For the generals, admirals and marshals who want to be active in politics, involved in a campaign team, I ask you to resign.” As he went on to say, “My wish and instruction on the 2014 presidential election is that the military and police neutrality should be maintained and implemented. Please, do not ruin and do not betray the military/police reform that was won hard.”

In my recollection, only on a few occasions has President Yudhoyono displayed such an angry tone on the Indonesian political situation, but there was little mistaking it this time. Frankly, speculation is rife on who exactly were the active “generals, admirals and marshals” involved in politics ahead of the presidential election. Not long after the president’s statement, another development came to light, in which babinsa (village non-commissioned officer) conducted surveys asking voters about their preference on a particular presidential candidate. These findings were then investigated by the Indonesian Army Headquarter, which will undertake disciplinary action on the babinsa.

The above events are closely interrelated, insofar as the neutrality of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) was compromised over allegations of military involvement in mobilizing support for a particular presidential hopeful. If true, this would obviously violate the principle of military professionalism, as stipulated in Indonesian Law (act) No. 34/2004 on the TNI, especially Article 2 (d), which states that a professional army is “well-trained, well-educated, well-equipped, not involved in politics nor business.”

The military’s alleged involvement in Indonesia’s electoral process was not an isolated one. In the last two elections (2004 and 2009), there were other incidents in which territorial officers or babinsa made use of their presence – especially in rural areas – to mobilize support for a particular candidate. Indeed, at that time, no mainstream media published these irregular activities, likely because the mainstream media generally focus on election reports in major cities.

As to the question of why this activity was repeated in the 2014 election, the answer also seems fairly straight-forward – in that the army’s territorial command structure from provincial, district, and village levels, which were a key element under Suharto’s New Order regime, still exists up to this day. The territorial commands structure is relatively uncontroversial so long as it has a defence function. But the issue becomes more worrisome when the structure has no defence function, such as at the village level, where the territorial function known as territorial management (in Indonesian: pembinaan teritorial/binter) also entails an intelligence function. The core problem is that the territorial command structure in the ​​rural/remote area can be easily used for political activities, like in the past when it was used to mobilize support for Suharto’s Golkar Party.

The critical question is how far military reforms have so far improved Indonesia’s military professionalism. The answer can be found in the military reform currently underway, albeit at a slow and even half-hearted pace. Reform efforts focus on ensuring that high-ranking military personnel quit or are barred from key political appointments and offices, including seat on cabinet, governor, major, regent, and member of parliament, among others. In the past, they used to hold multiple government posts, and now thanks to these reforms no longer have the privilege to occupy such positions. But, on the other side, the army’s territorial command structure remains largely unchanged since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. Indeed, the structure has even expanded into other regions, such as Aceh province.

Clearly, the TNI’s territorial command structure goes against article 11 paragraph 2 of Law no. 34/2004 on the TNI, which states: “the implementation of the deployment of military force should avoid organizational structure that can be abused for political interests and the deployment do not always follow to the structure of government.” Article 11 serves as a warning that the territorial command structure is a fragile one that can be abused for political purposes. At the very least, these worrisome developments beg the question of when and how the TNI’s territorial structure will be reorganized by a future elected president to avoid being misused for political interests.


Beni Sukadis is national security analyst at LESPERSSI (the Indonesian Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies), Jakarta. He has published books on SSR in Indonesia, national security, and strategy. He can be reached at bsukadis@gmail.com.