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Rising military influence: Indonesia faces democracy challenges amid proposed TNI law revisions

Human Rights Monitor - June 7, 2024

The current situation in Indonesia reveals a potential threat to its democracy, reminiscent of the era under President Suharto.

In light of current debates regarding the planned revision of Law No 34/2004 on the military (TNI), TNI Commander General Agus Subiyanto stated that the Indonesian Military now has a multifunctional role rather than the dual function it had during the New Order era.

This multifunctional role sees the military involved in various sectors, including health and education in West Papua. General Subiyanto claims that the military's involvement in civilian matters benefits the country. However, the statement raises concerns about the military's increasing influence in civilian affairs, potentially undermining democratic institutions and principles.

Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr M Herindra, assured the public that the current involvement of the TNI in civilian roles is regulated and controlled, dismissing fears of a return to the New Order's dual-function doctrine.

Both emphasised that Indonesia remains a democratic country and that the military's involvement in non-military roles is necessary and beneficial. Herindra pointed out that the regulations are in place to prevent the misuse of military power, ensuring that such participation is based on requests from relevant ministries and not arbitrary decisions.

Despite these assurances, historical concerns persist. PDI-P Secretary General, Mr. Hasto Kristiyanto, reminded the public of the New Order era's misuse of the military's dual function for political purposes. This period saw the military deeply involved in politics, often at the expense of democratic processes.

Hasto stressed that the reforms of the post-New Order era aimed to build distinct roles for the military and police, with the military focusing on defence and the police on law enforcement. The proposed revisions to the TNI and Police Laws, which include expanding the military's authority, have reignited fears of past abuses.

Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives, Mr Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, addressed these concerns by stating that the expansion of TNI and police authority would be limited and determined by presidential needs.

He acknowledged the current practice of TNI personnel occupying civilian positions and emphasised that such roles are necessary and beneficial under strict regulations. Yet, the proposed revisions to the TNI Law, which allow active soldiers to occupy civilian positions, have drawn significant debate and concern about potential overreach and erosion of civilian oversight.

The discussion around these legislative changes highlights the ongoing tension between maintaining national security and upholding democratic values in Indonesia.

The trauma from the New Order era's military dominance still lingers, and many fear that increasing the military's role in civilian sectors could lead to a regression. While officials argue that today's conditions are different and that regulations will prevent abuses, the potential for a slide back into military influence over civilian governance remains a critical issue for Indonesia's democratic future.

TNI members provide basic healthcare and education services in conflict areas across West Papua. Most schools and healthcare facilities in these areas are dysfunctional or have been abandoned

Source: https://humanrightsmonitor.org/news/rising-military-influence-indonesia-faces-democracy-challenges-amid-proposed-tni-law-revisions