JAKARTA, Apr 12 2004 (IPS) - For nearly 50 years, the Indonesian military held 20 percent of seats in parliament, but the time has now come for these unelected officers to leave the legislative building for good – and find a new place in the country’s changed political landscape.
When the new and expanded parliament, for which elections were held in April, convenes in October, there will no longer be in its midst the 75 military-clad members who used to be appointed by Indonesian leaders, including former dictator Suharto.
This change marks the phaseout of yet another step in the democratic reforms underway since 1998 in the world’s fourth most populous country.
”It’s going to be different because we used to see these officers coming on time (for legislative sessions),” remarks Ujang Royadi, an employee in Senayan, as the parliament building in central Jakarta is popularly called, as if to say that civilian politicians are not as disciplined as the military officers.
But democracy is not only a matter of arriving for sessions on time. The laws that allowed the nomination of military offices into parliament – thereby institutionalising the military’s role in Indonesian politics – has long been cited as one of the biggest flaws of the country’s political system.
”We have not been a democracy yet over the last five years, because we still had those unelected people. But (now) we will be more democratic indeed,” says Rahman Tolleng, a former legislator who in the early 1970s witnessed how the Indonesian military took over 20 percent of parliamentary seats.
The idea of putting unelected officers in parliament began in 1959, when Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno dismissed the democratically elected parliament and appointed politicians to represent various groups in a pseudo-parliament. He included the military in it.
Sukarno was toppled in a coup in 1965 and the military-backed regime of Suharto strengthened the military’s role in the early 1970s. Suharto had the Indonesian military occupy 100 of the 500 seats in parliament.
The argument for doing this at the time was to stabilise Indonesia’s secular constitution and protect it from either the communists or the Muslim fundamentalists.
Suharto then began the militarisation of the Indonesian political structure, installing active military officers as ministers, governors, regents, and other officials. The military also introduced a doctrine called its ‘dual function’ to justify their presence in civilian roles.
After Suharto was forced to step down in 1998 amid popular protests, civil society organisations immediately called on the military to get out of their parliamentarian seats -national, provincial and local -as well as to dismantle their territorial commands.
But during the transitional period in democratic reform since then, civilian leaders, including the incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, agreed to let these unelected military officers keep their parliamentary seats after reducing their number from 100 to 75.
It was only in 2002 when the People’s Consultative Assembly, the country’s highest representative body, agreed to scrap the military seats altogether.
The Indonesian military also began to ban active military officers from seeking elected office, agreeing to peacefully step back from parliament – whose membership will now be increased to 550 – when its new members convene in October. But while the military’s departure from parliament is a positive sign for an emerging democracy, genuine reform in the military’s role in politics is another issue.
Tolleng said that as long as the territorial commands – another Suharto legacy – are still in place, it is actually easy for the military to jump back into politics.
The continued existence of these commands show that the idea of civilian supremacy is not fashionable among many Indonesian officers. ”Especially among the retired ones,” Agus Widjojo, a retired three-star general who helped draft the pullout of the military from parliament two years ago, told IPS.
Rizal Sukma, a defence analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies here, said that in truth, many active military officers continue to intervene in daily politics.
”The armed forces’ headquarters still directs the Ministry of Defence, rather than the other way around,” said Rizal, citing examples like active generals who are still directing weapons procurement and defence policies.
Last year, a controversy broke out when military headquarters reportedly decided to buy four Russian Sukhoi jet fighters and two helicopters without the involvement of Defence Minister Matori Abdul Djalil, who was confined in a Singapore hospital at the time.
”Old habits die hard,” Rizal said in an interview.
Critics said that Djalil, a close, mild-mannered confidante of Megawati, does not understand military issues well enough to win respect from his generals. His lack of expertise is a liability given the strong political tradition of the Indonesian military and has created difficulties between the generals with their civilian minister.
”It is still new for our generals to accept a civilian to be their boss,” said Widjojo.
But despite the hurdles, the overall trend of sweeping parliament clean of military appointees has become difficult to reverse.
Posma Lumbang Tobing, a police general, is the last officer to head the current military faction in Senayan. ”We also contributed a lot to the parliament,” he said, adding that a team of academicians will be writing a book about the military faction that has been in parliament for 45 years.
Said Tobing: ”At least, we instilled discipline in being on time, hopefully future members will have that discipline.”