After almost two decades of reform, the Indonesian Military (TNI), which dominated civilians during Soeharto’s New Order, is still facing opposition in its efforts to attain voting rights. A recent televised comment from TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo expressing his hope for personnel to regain their voting rights was met with criticism on Tuesday, with concerns that such a right would become a source of divide within the force, as members are allowed to support different candidates during elections.
“The military force should always stay neutral and the conflicts of interest may lead to disputes in their internal force, because they may hold different political views from each other,” said lawmaker Supiadin Aries Saputra of the NasDem Party, who is also a member of House of Representatives Commission I overseeing foreign affairs and defense.
In the interview, conducted ahead of the TNI’s 71st anniversary on Wednesday, Gatot recalled the political rights of personnel being denied, which, according to him, made them feel like foreigners in their own country during each election. He hoped military members could be granted the same voting rights as civilians.
But Gatot is well aware of the internal challenges presented in the effort to grant military personnel voting rights.
“It may happen after 10 years,” he said, explaining that the TNI, as an institution, still had internal matters to settle.
Gatot is not the first to call for voting rights for TNI members. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former military general, also brought up the discussion in 2013.
Indonesian law barred military members from voting after the 1955 legislative elections to maintain the force’s strong support for the government.
During the New Order era the military, however, was given up to 20 percent of House seats by Soeharto, who was also an Army general. The House representation remained a privilege for retired military officers until the fall of the New Order.
Debate on whether military personnel should be given back their voting rights usually occurs nearing elections, in which many former military members vie for legislative and presidential posts.
A judicial review petition was filed ahead of the 2014 polls to challenge the 2008 Presidential Election Law, which only barred TNI and National Police members from voting in the 2009 election. The law contravened the 2012 Legislative Elections Law, which barred the forces’ personnel from voting in 2014 legislative polls.
The Constitutional Court ruled that TNI and police members were also barred from voting in the 2014 presidential election.
The government and the House are working to merge the two laws, along with the 2011 General Election Organizer Law, into one law regulating elections.
Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) executive director Titi Anggraini said voting rights for military personnel were acceptable as long the military could fully comply with democratic principles, including strong civil supremacy.
“I support voting rights for military members if all these conditions are met. But, our democracy still lacks monitoring and firm law enforcement,” Titi emphasized.
Wahyudi Djafar of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) said it was not easy to maintain TNI neutrality.
He recalled an incident in 1955 when the Siliwangi Military Command openly supported the Supporters of Indonesia Independence Party (IPKI), which was set up by high-ranking military elites after the military failed to secure House seats, to recover the TNI’s active political role.
“Military personnel must first adopt civilian principles to fully enjoy [voting rights as] the product of the civilian democratic system,” he said. The Indonesian Military (TNI) is celebrating its 71st anniversary on Wednesday in a modest but solemn manner. TNI commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said there would be no display or parade of military weaponry in light of the country’s struggling economy and most importantly because no new equipment procured by the TNI has been delivered.
However, the simple celebration should not be an excuse for failing to review the military’s performance and achievements over the past year. Like previous anniversary celebrations, this year’s event should renew calls for introspection on the part of the military, toward modernization and professionalism.
A number of recent cases and events have strengthened the momentum for expedited military reform, particularly in regards to personnel professionalism and the military’s modernization program in line with the latest Defense White Paper, which was issued last May.
One recent case in point is the reported involvement of TNI officers in the murder of two former confidants of cult leader Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi — the man at the center of a recent controversy due to his alleged ability to copy banknotes. Dimas, who leads a ritual group named Padepokan Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi in Probolinggo, East Java, was named by the East Java Police as a suspect in the murder of Abdul Gani and Ismail Hidayah. Aside from the murder case, Dimas is being investigated for allegations of fraud and money laundering.
The police have named nine other suspects in the murder of Abdul and Ismail, including one retired middle-ranking TNI officer, an active middle-ranking officer who is said to have been on the military’s list of deserters, and a non-commissioned military officer.
Another case was the violent attack on a NetTV news contributor by suspected members of the Army’s 501st battalion in Madiun, East Java, on Sunday. The TV journalist was recording an incident when members of the Army battalion beat up members of the Setia Hati Teratai traditional martial arts group, who were traveling in a convoy, after the latter accidentally hit a motorist at an intersection. One battalion member seized the journalist’s camera and damaged its memory card, while others beat him on the face and body.
The two incidents show that the TNI needs to improve personnel professionalism and compliance with the sapta marga (seven-point personnel commitment), sumpah prajurit (five-point personnel oath) and delapan wajib TNI (eight-point personnel duties).
The two cases have once again raised the importance of reviewing the 1997 Military Tribunal Law, in particular articles that regulate legal consequences or sanctions for military members committing nonwar crimes. Under the existing law, military personnel suspected of war and non-war crimes are tried in a military court. Meanwhile, post1998 reforms have demanded that military personnel suspected of non-war crimes be tried in a civilian court.
To further promote professionalism, this year’s anniversary celebration opens up a chance to review military members’ capability to adapt to the latest weaponry and equipment and the TNI’s choice of arms, which the country needs to answer 21st century security challenges.
In our case, the procurement of military weapons and equipment should not deviate from the commitment to meet the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) 2024, which serves as a basis of transition for Indonesia’s military modernization. The MEF will pave the way for military innovation and a revolution in military affairs, which will hopefully transform the TNI into an agile 21st century force.
Our procurement of military weapons and equipment should also comply with the latest Defense White Paper, which offers a comprehensive view of the country’s grand vision of defense. One significant aspect the paper highlights is that Indonesia’s defense development is not intended to promote an arms race but to establish the nation as a significant maritime power. In addition to the stipulation on the MEF 2024, the paper also incorporates the global maritime axis and state defense concepts to deal with potential threats over the next five years.
Of all the key considerations, the procurement of military weapons and equipment that would maintain our country’s independent choices should be given top priority. A significant lesson should be learned from an incident in Situbondo, East Java, during a joint military exercise in mid-September when a Chinese-made missile failed to hit a target as expected. There are only two possible reasons for the embarrassing accident: either our personnel were not skillful enough to launch the missile or the missile’s quality did not meet expectations.
Our personnel need more exercises and our defense system merits a thorough review to prevent the failed missile launch incident from recurring. If necessary, we could look for missiles from other manufacturers who are known for their reliable products.
There is no doubt we need modern military weapons and equipment for the TNI, taking into consideration our financial capability. But what is the point of acquiring cheap weapons and equipment if they do not perform, let alone protect the nation as expected?
Happy 71st anniversary to the TNI.