The Thinker: Is Security Reform On the Agenda?

The Thinker: Is Security Reform On the Agenda?

The Jakarta Globe
Eko Waluyo

One of the greater achievements in reformation in the past decade has been keeping the military out of politics. During former President Suharto's administration, the military and the National Police had representatives in legislatures at national, provincial and district levels.

In this election, the issue was broached when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called senior military and police officials to the Presidential Palace and revealed his concern about a rumored campaign that would urge people to vote against him. Another presidential candidate, retired Gen. Wiranto of the People's Conscience Party, or Hanura, has also warned high-ranking security officials who have positions in the government not to play politics or influence the military.

These alarming messages have created some fundamental questions about whether the military is still determined to play a political role, despite the 2004 law clarifying the illegality of doing so. The president's concern should be considered in the context of democratization; it is a signal that the country's security reform has yet to be fully realized.

Despite the bombardment of media campaigns from political parties with vague promises to address unemployment, poverty and so on, this campaign season has yet to touch on more pressing issues. Security sector reform, in particular, is missing, and the president's administration has failed to deliver on its mandate to reform the military command structure, military businesses and intelligence agency regulation.

Alarming messages have created questions about whether the military is determined to play a political role

The June 2008 comment by Samsir Siregar, chief of the State Intelligence Agency, regarding public criticism over the increase in oil prices, underscores the fact that the agency has not changed from Suharto's time. The same goes for the defense minister, who said at legislative hearings on a bill for a military court that any civil crime by military officers should be dealt with by a military court and military police rather than a civil court and nonmilitary police.

The decentralization process is one element of democratic reform. In Papua and Aceh, where poverty, unemployment and conflict are widespread, military statements are regular media headlines. And it even seems that some military commands have turned into illegitimate parties opposed to the local government.

There are many security sector reform issues in the regions, including how the security forces handle peaceful demonstrations in Papua Province, the continued assassinations of members of local parties in Aceh that are met with few if any investigation results and the security forces' inability to protect a member of legislature in Medan when his office was stormed by a mob.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, has successfully transformed into a democratic state under the gaze of the international community. Despite the government having ratified most of the UN covenants, there is some concern that the emergence of regional religious bylaws discriminate against women, some communities and some local cultures, tarnishing Indonesia's image. The April 9 legislative elections can transform the national political agenda vis-a-vis poverty and security sector reform, but local governments have to play a role in this transformation.

Adding to the importance of Indonesia's democratization and how it is perceived throughout world is the recent US decision to resume relations with the military, based on progressive military reform, rectification of past abuses and access to events in Papua. The United States has also been providing significant aid to counterterrorism programs in Indonesia.

During the US presidential election, Barack Obama told CNN's Fareed Zakaria about his childhood in Indonesia.He recalled that the generals and members of Suharto's family living in lavish mansions, and the sense that the government wasn't always working for the people.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit here signals that the United States wants a stronger partnership with Indonesia. This must be based on security sector reform to avoid the re-emergence of human rights atrocities as barriers to Indonesia's acceptance.

Eko Waluyo is a program coordinator of Indonesian Solidarity and Mufti Makaarim al-Ahlaq is executive director of the Institute for Defense, Security and Peace Studies