Unlike the military juntas that rule in Thailand and Myanmar, the Indonesian military, Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), is today a professional fighting force subservient to civilian leadership.
But under President Suharto’s authoritarian rule from 1967 to 1998, the military was entrenched in government at all levels from parliament to local mayoral positions.
Upon Suharto’s resignation in 1998 amid the Asian Financial Crisis’ social unrest, the TNI gave up its pervasive role in politics and business, and democratic reforms under President BJ Habibie paved the way for direct elections.
While former senior military officials have since been in high office – including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general; and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, serving in President Joko Widodo’s Cabinet today – the TNI has stayed out of politics, and soldiers are barred from voting in elections.
Is this state of affairs likely to change? Dewi Fortuna Anwar at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (P2P-LIPI) thinks it is natural for political parties to court former military officers for their experience, while Assoc Prof Leonard C Sebastian of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, RSIS, says he “cannot see the TNI attempting to engage in the same sort of activities as we have seen in Myanmar or Thailand” because of the different mindset of the TNI officer and countervailing forces such as Indonesian civil society and media.
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