Military 'Party' Still Strongest in New Indonesian Politics

Article excerpt

When General Suharto resigned from the Indonesian presidency last month, the politics of the armed forces suddenly and fundamentally changed. Throughout the 32-year history of the New Order, the label given to Suharto's regime, the president had been firmly in control of the military.

Many people are puzzled today why, after Suharto resigned and the political situation has become increasingly chaotic, military leaders seem not to be taking any initiative. Indeed, they are tending to let things get worse.

The military's long role as the "military party" subordinate to Suharto left it too dependent on the president to be able to play a pioneering role in the birth of the post-Suharto order. Despite the military's paralysis in the final days of Suharto, it remains a major, if not the most important, force in Indonesian politics. And the more divided the civilian forces become - with the proliferation of new parties - the stronger the relative position of the military becomes. There are two possible explanation for military inaction. The first is based on a conspiracy theory. The second is that the military after so many years under Suharto's thumb is slowly learning how to engage on its own in politics. Conspiracy theorists believe that the Army is deliberately allowing conditions to worsen, so that it will have an excuse for seizing power in the name of security and stability. This explanation fails to take into account changes in the international strategic environment after the end of the cold war, plus shifts in domestic politics caused by 30 years of economic development under the New Order. During the cold war, military governments in the developing world were tolerated by the West, but this is no longer the case. Domestically, economic development has created a substantial critical intelligentsia throughout the country. These critics are relatively few compared with the Indonesian population of 200 million, but their constituency is world opinion, due to the spread of sophisticated communications technology. These factors prevent the armed forces from playing the dominant political role they played in the past. The lack of aggressiveness of the post-Suharto military is a direct result of the length of time that the top officers were controlled and depoliticized by Suharto. During the New Order, the military's political role - sanctified in armed forces doctrine as one of their "twin functions" - was performed by Suharto without involving the officers. …