Jakarta – If the definition of civilian supremacy is a democratic system in which the military is under the control of an elected civilian authority, then Indonesia could fit the description well.
First and foremost, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has been stripped of its social and political roles and the institution is now solely responsible for defending the country from foreign threats.
We no longer have military officers being given seats in the legislature or appointed leaders of government institutions – other than some defense-related posts. The TNI has also been separated from the National Police and has been put under the coordination of the Defense Ministry, which most of the time is led by civilian figures.
And only after 20 years, that seems like a major accomplishment. However, the alleged role of ex-members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) known as "Tim Mawar" (Rose Team) in instigating the May 22 riots indicates that the military is not done with us and that the institution will continue to loom large in politics for some time.
An expose by Tempo weekly published this week detailed the alleged roles of retired Kopassus personnel under Tim Mawar – which was also involved in the disappearance of pro-democracy activists in 1998 – in recruiting "professional" hoodlums and mobilizing them to wreak havoc during rallies to protest the General Elections Commission's (KPU) announcement of incumbent President Joko "Jokowi" as the winner of the 2019 presidential election.
For TNI watchers, this is not much of a surprise as months leading up to the presidential election, the Army and especially Kopassus, for which Jokowi's challenger Prabowo Subianto once served as commander, was roiled by division. The Army chief was reportedly forced to intervene to maintain unity within the corps, especially after former commanders pledged their support for Prabowo. Some former officers, such as ex-Kopassus commander Soenarko, went as far as procuring weapons to be used in postelection unrest, according to the police.
Even without knowing these facts, we got a sense of just how massive the role of former TNI members was in Prabowo's political ambitions. Scores of retired generals held key positions within his official campaign team, with former TNI chief Djoko Santoso serving as chairman. With so many retired generals running a political operation, it is not hard to imagine that these people would treat the election as if it was military warfare, with intelligence gathering and covert operations being the modus operandi.
Jokowi decided to fight fire with fire and surrounded himself with high-profile retired generals such as Luhut Pandjaitan, Moeldoko and AM Hendropriyono, to manage his presidential campaign. Some apologists said that with three civilian presidents, BJ Habibie, Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri failing to serve a full-term, Jokowi could be forgiven for hiring ex-military figures to secure his chance of winning.
As long as politicians don't have confidence in building civilian institutions, we will continue to face problems like Tim Mawar.