Political Reform

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Political Reform


ABRI's senior officers have been in the forefront of political reform in Indonesia for many years. Many of the present ABRI leaders had their careers side-tracked in the past because they were perceived as giving less than full allegiance to Soeharto and the military chain of command of that time. For a variety of reasons, including personal and professional differences with the rising military stars of the Soeharto period (particularly Prabowo Subianto, Soeharto's son-in-law, whose talents were subverted by great ambition and arrogance towards seniors and subordinates alike), they were shuttled to powerless assignments and denied promotion. Many of these officers have now gained senior positions commensurate with their professional abilities, intellectual sophistication and maturity, and reformist attitude.

Many fine officers were sidetracked because they were perceived to be professional competitors of Prabowo and his coterie. Others lost favour for daring to disagree --- often publicly --- with the leaders and policies of the Soeharto era. Now these officers have risen to the top of the ABRI leadership in the post-Soeharto era and are anxious to implement political reforms, including a reduction of the military's pervasive role in government.

ABRI's current leadership deeply resented the use of the armed forces as a political tool by the Soeharto regime. They cite frequent examples of misuse of the armed forces for political purposes. These include the use of the territorial structure to collect information on political opponents and use of the intelligence structure to persecute any opposition. The July 1996 assault on the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) faction led by opposition figure Mrs Megawati Soekarnoputri was certainly one of the most notable examples of misuse of military power for purely political motives.

In his 5 October 1998 Armed Forces Day speech, the ABRI Commander-in-Chief conceded that ABRI had been a political tool of Soeharto for thirty years, and pledged to change this. The military's role in Indonesian society has changed, perhaps forever, because of the country's rapid move towards openness and democracy. The most visible element of ABRI's political power --- its dwi-fungsi (dual function) doctrine which allocates to ABRI a socio-political mission as well as its traditional defence and security mission --- has been the target of much emotional assault.

The dwifungsi doctrine reflects ABRI's history as a popular army forged in the fight for independence against the Dutch. That struggle blurred the distinction between civilian and military when much of the population supported the guerrilla fight through active service or logistics and intelligence support. Indonesia's primary military doctrine still stresses guerrilla warfare and low-intensity conflict, unlike Western armed forces, for which such combat is a sideline to doctrines of conventional warfare. …

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