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What does the military's new regional command structure mean for Indonesia?

Indonesia at Melbourne - March 23, 2024

Indonesia stands at a critical juncture as plans to expand military regional commands (Kodams) gain traction in the last months of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration.

In late February, the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) Commander-General, Agus Subiyanto, announced an intention to establish a military presence in each province by more than doubling the number of Kodams from 15 to 37.

The move signals a concerning shift toward the reinvigoration of the military's dual function (Dwifungsi), a relic of the authoritarian New Order regime that was ostensibly dismantled in the wake of the 1998 Reformasi movement.

The dual function doctrine, which allowed the military to wield significant influence in political and civilian spheres, was a hallmark of Soeharto's New Order and enabled the regime's tight grip on power.

The Reformasi era, ushered in by the fall of Soeharto, promised a departure from this militaristic legacy and a clear delineation between military and civilian roles.

But the proposed expansion of Kodams threatens to unravel these hard-won reforms. By establishing a military presence in every province, the plan risks unnecessarily inflating the defence budget and, as explained below, it undermines efforts to professionalise the military and confine it to its constitutional role.

Expanding military power under Jokowi

The Reformasi era marked a significant departure from the militarised governance of the New Order, with reforms aiming to confine the military to its defence role and strengthen civilian control. This was encapsulated in the 2004 TNI Law, which explicitly delineated the military's function as defence and external security and limited its involvement in civilian affairs.

However, the military seems to be making a comeback under President Jokowi's administration. Military justice reforms have stalled. Despite being the head of state and military institutions, he has shown a lack of decisive action. Many military personnel accused of misconduct are tried through opaque and unaccountable military courts, which often fail to deliver justice to victims.

The recent expansion of Kodams aligns with a worrying trend of increasing military involvement in civilian roles under Jokowi. The recent Civil Servant (ASN) Law (Law No. 20 of 2023), which allows active military personnel to occupy civilian positions is a case in point. This blurring between military and civilian roles is a clear regression to the Soeharto era's dual function doctrine and raises serious concerns about the military's influence in shaping policy and governance.

What does a territorial command mean for Indonesia?

Military territorial command is important under martial law for defence supply in war time. However, extending this structure in peace time risks excessive military interference in civilian matters, challenging democratic principles and civilian control.

The territorial command structure, which Kodams represent, was a potent tool for the New Order regime to interfere in politics and governance. There are many reasons why a return to it spells trouble for Indonesia.

First, the expansion of Kodams could create overlap with civilian governance structures. Aligning Kodams with provincial boundaries increases the likelihood of military commanders exerting disproportionate influence on local governance, thereby eroding the distinction between the military and civilian domains. This retrogressive move echoes the New Order era's tactic of embedding military personnel in government institutions to consolidate control and suppress dissent, thereby undermining the professionalism of the military in managing national defence.

There are also concerns the proliferation of Kodams will lead to an increased military presence in regional areas, potentially encroaching upon regional autonomy. This could manifest in the suppression of civil society activities critical of government policies, posing a grave threat to fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

Moreover, the expansion of Kodams could exacerbate existing disparities in defence spending among the different branches of the TNI. Studies have shown the territorial command structure already consumes a disproportionate share defence spending and reveals deep-seated inefficiencies within TNI, hindering the professionalisation of the Indonesian military.

The proposed increase in Kodams will only exacerbate these budget pressures, adding further financial strain without a clear explanation of the value add. Allocating even more budget resources to Kodams would necessarily divert funds from other important areas, such as modernising equipment and improving the military's professional capabilities.

Indonesians need to keep the military accountable

The timing and rationale of the expansion of Kodams raises questions about its true motives. The lack of a comprehensive review to justify the need for additional Kodams suggests the move may be driven more by political considerations than genuine security concerns. The extension of the military retirement age from 55 to 58 years has resulted in a surplus of approximately 500 middle-ranking officers. Creating new Kodams may be a convenient solution to accommodate them.

This reflects a short-sighted view of military reform and it speaks to a broader pattern of accommodation politics under President Jokowi's administration, where key military personnel are pampered to bolster his own political power.

The implications of this shift extend beyond the mere presence of military commands in each province. It risks reviving the patronage networks and mechanisms of control that characterised the New Order, where the military acted as enforcer of the regime's interests, often at the expense of human rights and democratic freedoms. The expansion of Kodams could facilitate the return of such practices, undermining the rule of law and the principles of accountability and transparency that are foundational to democratic governance.

Given these concerns, Indonesia must reassess the expansion of military regional commands. It is imperative for civil society, defence experts, and policymakers to demand transparency and accountability from the government – and a thorough evaluation of the necessity and consequences of this proposal – despite the government's historical reluctance to listen to the people.

The evolution of Indonesia towards a more democratic, transparent and accountable governance framework is contingent upon the military's compliance with its constitutional mandate, without political meddling.

However expecting Jokowi to champion reform principles and ensure the military's non-partisan professionalism appears excessively optimistic given his history of political pragmatism. The real test for Indonesia is whether civil society it can prevent exploitation of the military for political advantage and enhance civilian oversight and democratic institutions.

This is not a time for passive reflection but a moment to actively challenge and resist any attempts to erode the principles of democratic governance.

The lessons of the past should not be ignored. The military's dual function as a barrier to democratic governance and human rights and its revival threaten the progress made since 1998. Indonesians must mobilise and demand transparency and accountability from their leaders. Public pressure and civil society activism will be crucial to ensure military reforms align with democratic principles and safeguard civilian supremacy.

These developments are concerning for civil society and democracy activists, as they signal a potential return to militarisation in Indonesia. The implications could be significant for the balance of civil-military relations in the country. Regional commands could serve as an entry point for the military to reassert their presence in politics in the coming years. The current trend of appointing military personnel to civil positions, which is becoming more frequent under President Jokowi, is indicative of this shift.

Source: https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/what-does-the-militarys-new-regional-command-structure-mean-for-indonesia