May 24, 2001, response to "A Turning Point For Indonesia" in the May 28 issue of Newsweek. Also sent to some mailing lists (INDONESIA-L, Indonesia-Act). (mounted 6-Jun-01) ________________________________________________________
The present political development in Indonesia seems to be mainly determined by three unknown variables: the relationship beween Abdurrahman (Gus Dur) Wahid and Megawati (Mega) Soekarnoputri; the inner condition of the military, particularly the army; and, least but unfortunately not last, the opportunistic antics of a political elite preoccupied almost exclusively with egoistic considerations.
Insofar as the latter is concerned: if their behaviour were in any way representative of the nation, one could clearly imagine the disgust the Good Lord must have felt for mankind when He decided to flush it away in a great flood, saving only Noah, family, and animals. But the some 200 million population is itself the main victims, and at the same time hostage of that elite. They are the only ones deserving the thoughts one might still want to contribute, let alone efforts to help the country in its transition to democracy. So here are some considerations on the first two points.
1. Gus Dur and Mega
Megawati and Gus Dur represent respectively the largest and third- largest fractions resulting from the last elections. Megawati was expected to be elected as president, but this was hindered by the so-called axis coalition. In a crude populistic campaign aimed at exploiting religious sentiments of the less educated population, they (falsely) claimed that a woman as president was in contradiction to Islamic law.
A "compromise" solution was found, in that Gus Dur, representing the second-largest reform fraction, was elected as president. Beside seeming to save the day for the reform cause, it also calmed apprehensions existing among some observers about the political qualities of Megawati. More important, perhaps, it gave Mega the chance of consolidating her party (the PDIP) before exposing it to the kind of debilitating political subversion with which the axis has been undermining Gus Dur's government all the while.
Nevertheless, Megawati understandably felt cheated out of the presidency which had indeed been her right as winner of the elections. It is unfortunate, that Gus Dur has apparently allowed the opposition to make use of the situation by playing her against him.
Gus Dur's predicament is understandable. The PDIP which grew under conditions of attracting the brunt of the former regime's repressive brutalities was suddenly confronted with an amount of popular support for which it did not have sufficient politically experienced personnel. The PDIP attracted opportunists of various colours like a light works on moths, and principled party activists of the first hour often even found themselves outnumbered or outflanked. To this one should add the not insignificant army lobby within the PDIP.
Therefore, though perhaps genuinely sympathising with Megawati and the original PDIP, Gus Dur had reasons to have apprehensions about handing over too much of his power to Megawati, and indirectly also to the mentioned newcomer elements in the PDIP. However, he obviously over-estimated his own political strength and capability to prevent the situation he is facing now.
Gus Dur's last chance to salvage the situation seems, to my mind, to lie in the realisation, that the presidency had indeed been Megawati's right to begin with, and that the stroke of luck which placed him in that seat instead was an emergency solution to save the cause of reform. It is nevertheless beyond doubt, that the population in its majority saw and still sees Megawati as leader of that cause. It is only reasonable from a democratic point of view, that she is reinstalled in her rightful position as soon as the situation allows it.
Therefore, instead of letting the axis conspiracy get away with hypocritically offering the presidency to Megawati, it was Gus Dur who should have opened the way to becoming president for her. It is perhaps not too late to do so even now. And the first step in that direction could be to submit a law, or even amendment to the Constitution, which would immediately force the PDIP to his side while at the same time humiliate the axis: a law that declared all leading state and government positions, including that of president, equally accessible for men and women.
The need for such an amendment or law is compelling: Megawati had been denied the presidency because she is a woman, and if she is to be elected president at the next MPR session, this can only happen if that session first lays the legal basis for her nomination that dismisses previous reservations against a woman holding that position. It furthermore has the advantage of not being some slipshod spur-of-the-moment subterfuge or manipulation, but constituting an important and profound improvement on the way to democracy and respect for human rights. Some of the more diehard axis parties will balk, but can Amien Rais' PAN and Akbar Tanjung's Golkar afford voting against it?
No matter, whether after that Gus Dur remains president, or surrenders the post to Megawati who had the formal right to it all the while anyway, it is obvious that democratic reform in the country can only be advanced in an alliance between Gus Dur's and Megawati's parties. So, most important for Gus Dur at this time is to be sure that, when Megawati becomes president, she does so with rather than against him.
2. Condition of the Military
To the merits of the new US administration one should doubtlessly count having disappointed the Indonesian military which had perhaps hoped it could now return to its old ways again. The resulting disillusionment seems to have had encouraging results. In their most recent public utterings, military officials are for the first time beginning to venture further than the routine public-relations euphemisms of the past 35 years.
Nevertheless, whatever intents towards serious reform might have been formed in the military are facing greater structural barriers than even the boldest reformists in their ranks might realise. These are the same structural factors which have caused all anti-insurgency efforts of the military and the police to backfire in the past, strengthening rather than weakening insurgents by pushing the population into their arms.
The first and most obvious, though less fundamental, reason was that military and police alike allowed themselves to get emotionally stressed by every action of insurgents, requiring on-the-spot adrenaline reducing reaction. As insurgents are typically too elusive to become immediate targets, the troops let off their rage on civilians.
This at first glance appears not to be a structural problem, but one of insufficient qualifications. Luckily, Indonesia is not faced with a potential foreign aggressor. Otherwise, it would have an easy day, facing the Indonesian army: just any provocation will suffice to get them charginging into a prepared trap you set for them, lock, stock, and barrel. But the reason why it has not been possible (and also won't be immediately possible) to raise the level of discipline of the ranks lies in problem number two.
This is less obvious, although actually everyone who has ever had to do with the Indonesian military or police will surely have experienced it in the one form or the other. It may appear as "dishonesty", "greed", "corruptibility", the extortion of illicit "fines", etc. The population is quite helpless to face this extortion. Any anti-insurgency sweep in a remote village is accompanied by pilferings and extortions from defenceless peasants, and this has helped the GAM in Aceh more effectively than any weapons smuggled from abroad.
These are only the superficial traces of a deeprooted structural defect of the entire armed forces. It began way back in the 1950s, when the army retained and even further developed its economic subsidiaries of the guerrilla war for independence period. All efforts by civilian authorities to gain insight into illegal economic rackets of the armed forces came to an end when the district attorney investigating a Tanjung Priok smuggling case in the 1950s was "accidentally" killed: his car got squeezed between two army trucks.
Under Soeharto, the military gave up its last remnants of camouflage, when the whole economy of Indonesia practically became an army racket. The effects on the condition of the army itself was however devastating.
There is one thing a corrupt army officer cannot do: hide his racket from his subordinates. Therefore, he either has to let them in to part of the profits, or allow them to go about their own subsidiary earnings (to the distress of all outsiders coming in touch with them, see above), or both. This has developed into a total cover-up solidarity from the highest general to the lowest ranks. It is the absolute and utmost matter of discipline in the military, that nobody blabbers with outsiders on this point.
Whenever the military speaks of itself as being one family, or stresses the necessity of discipline and holding together, then what it means is this shared economic complicity. The military's business enterprises are something which they have defended jealously against all outside interest. When Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah was made commander of Kostrad (Army Strategic Command) by the president, this was tolerated. But the moment he began prying into financial irregularities among Kostrad officers, he was out, dismissed under philosophical remarks of the army holding together and not tolerating any sort of uncolleguial behaviour among themselves.
It is however this illicit economic discipline which is making all military discipline impossible. Because, allowing the lower ranks their petty pilferings is the only way to safeguard the secrecy of larger-scale pilferings of the upper echelons. And when you cannot prevent your men from extorting the common folk, you will hardly be able to get them to respect civil rights (This latter can be difficult enough even in established democracies with deeprooted legal and civic traditions).
It seems rather Utopic to hope that the military and police will reform to the better in a way, that would permit anti-insurgency operations not to take the form of mass reprisals against innocent civilians, as long as the military remains committed to its partially or entirely illicit businesses.
The difficulty is, however, that the problem can hardly be solved without cooperation of the military. It must therefore be a carefully weighed plan for which one will probably very much need the support and good will of whatever foreign interests that have some influence on the military. One will probably not come around granting over-all clemency for all "irregularities" of the past, provided a gradual transition to civil control within a clearly defined period takes place, after which all further misdemeanors must be subject to regular punishment by law. Perhaps one will also have to raise their salaries to compensate the sudden income drop at least partially.
The only incentive for the military in this is, that all plans of reform of the military will necessarily remain empty talk so long as the military does not separate from its uncontrolled business. I am not particularly optimistic, but there doesn't seem to be any way around this. So, lets hope.....