Kornelius Purba, Jakarta – The Constitutional Court may have faced great pressure when hearing a lawsuit filed against the 2004 Indonesian Military (TNI) Law, which if granted will increase the mandatory retirement age of military rank-and-file to 58, equal to that of officers. The psychological burden on the justices looked like it may have mounted when TNI Chief Gen. Andika Perkasa attended the hearing in person on Feb. 8.
Hundreds of thousands of military soldiers and officers perhaps cannot wait for the Court's decision, one that could change their careers.
Concurrent with the judicial review, the House of Representatives is to table revisions to the TNI law as an initiative bill. The bill seeks to increase the retirement age to 58 for all TNI personnel and to 60 for high-performing officers if needed by the state. The draft law also gives active TNI officers the chance to hold civilian posts not limited to positions related to state security as practiced today.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo may be in favor of the changes as he needs stronger support from the TNI in the face of at least three strategic events: the Group of 20 (G20) summit in October, the power vacuum in hundreds of regencies, cities and provinces this year and in 2023 and the 2024 elections.
The TNI law revision, however, could be alarming for civil-military relations, as the move could be perceived as the return of the military dual-function that characterized the New Order under Soeharto.
For young officers, expanding terms of military service, either through judicial review or revision of the TNI law, could be worrying because it would reduce their chance to climb up the ladder as their seniors may hold their posts longer. For many years the TNI has been unable to address promotional logjams, rendering hundreds of middle-ranking officers "jobless".
An extension of the retirement age would also spark budget concerns, as the TNI would have to allocate more for personnel expenditure.
Andika's attendance in the Constitutional Court sent a message of his support for the cause. He called for fairness, considering that the National Police have for nearly two decades set the retirement age for all personnel at 58 years old, in accordance with the National Police Law No. 3/2002.
Andika said the gap was unfair because both the police and the military played equally important roles in protecting the nation and the people. The military decided to return to barracks and completely refrain from practical politics in 2004, capping the sweeping political reforms that began after the fall of Soeharto in May 1998.
During Soeharto's 32-year rule, the police were part of the military. The reforms separated the police from the military in 2002, with the former in charge of domestic security and public order and the latter of state defense.
Not only Andika, Army chief Gen. Dudung Abdurachman also has a personal interest in the constitutional debate over military officers' retirement age. While Andika enters his retirement age in December of this year, Dudung will end his service in November 2023, according to the existing law.
"I beg the presiding justice and the panel of justices to come up with a wise and just decision, or ex aequo et bono," Dudung told the bench.
If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, who include retired TNI officers, Andika may be able to stay in power until December 2024, although without such a ruling the President has the prerogative to extend his term of service.
But this is not just about retirement age. It is far beyond the administrative matter. The TNI has far-reaching goals to achieve, and President Jokowi can be the eventual winner of this game.
TNI's rising popularity
The proactive role of the TNI in the COVID-19 response has impressed the people, as reflected in several opinion surveys that found the TNI was the most trusted state institution. There have been public discourses to give the military more roles in noncombat affairs, because of its skills and expertise that are needed in civilian work.
The 400,000-strong TNI can reach out to the lowest level of the government's arms because it has offices up to the kecamatan (district) level and has one non-commissioned officer called Babinsa in each kelurahan (subdistrict) level. Soldiers have also been deployed for search and rescue and reconstruction operations in the event of natural disasters.
In his address during the 76th anniversary of the TNI on Oct. 5 last year, President Jokowi praised the key role of the military in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the vaccine roll-out.
Jokowi also hoped the TNI would stay alert to a larger security spectrum, such as sea-resources thefts, radicalism, terrorism, cyberthreats, biological threats and natural disasters. He wanted the military to play a bigger role in issues such as radicalism and terrorism, although the police insist the two matters fall under their domain.
Public opinion surveys have consistently demonstrated the increasing public confidence in the TNI. Indikator Politik Indonesia, for example, found in September 2021 that 90 percent of respondents deemed the TNI was the most trusted state institution, ahead of the President and the police with 82 percent and 71 percent respectively.
Another pollster Indostrategic only confirmed the trend, while at the same time showing the police's image continued to be marked by setbacks.
Major events in 2022
This year, Indonesia will host two strategic events that require strong support from both the TNI and the police.
First, late in October, Indonesia is scheduled to host the G20 summit, most likely in Bali. The participants will include United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Apart from the summit, Indonesia will organize various ministerial meetings. The summit will be Jokowi's most prestigious international event during his presidency.
Second, seven governors, including Jakarta leader Anies Baswedan, 18 mayors and 76 regents will have to step down as a consequence of the national consensus to delay to the regional elections to November 2024. The government will have to appoint acting regional leaders from civil servants, but there is also room for senior military personnel and police officers to fill the vacant posts.
Next year, the same process will repeat in 17 provinces, including West Java, Central Java and East Java, together with 39 cities and 115 regencies.
Selecting so many acting regional heads is not an easy task for the President and Home Minister Tito Karnavian, although the government and the House are confident the situation will be fully under control.
In facing this situation, the President needs to ensure solid support from the TNI and the police to maintain political and security stability across the country. Therefore, the President will likely pay more attention to the regional military leaders. He will strongly play the stick and carrot tactic to ensure their loyalty.
Andika knows very well what President Jokowi, the TNI supreme commander, needs. Andika is tipped as a potential candidate for the 2024 presidential race. Extension of his retirement age, therefore, matters.
[The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.]