Critics slam Indonesian military for meddling in national politics

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TNI Chief General Gatot Nurmantyo (left) at a concert with pop singer Iwan Fals. Image: Asep Fathulrahman/Antara/Jakarta Globe

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Critics have rebuked the Indonesian Military, or TNI,  for meddling in politics, as it celebrated its 72nd anniversary last week, reports the Jakarta Globe.

The critics of the institution say there are signs it is trying to reestablish its political power — curbed since the fall of the military dictator President Suharto in 1998, including by regaining its old dwifungsi, or dual-function, role under current commander General Gatot Nurmantyo.

The TNI’s dwifungsi role, maintained for 32 years under military strongman Suharto, was scrapped soon after his downfall. Dwifungsi had allowed soldiers to be involved in business and politics, earning them enormous advantage and helping them stay in power.

Concerns that civil supremacy is slipping in Indonesia have been rising since Gatot took the reins of the TNI in July 2015. The general makes frequent public appearances, seems to court media attention and in recent months has been putting forth ultra-nationalistic remarks that created controversies.

Activists from Jakarta-based Kontras, a non-governmental organisation that has been helping victims of military violence, said in a note on civil-military relations entitled “A Gift for the Military’s 72nd Anniversary,” that Gatot had been making “obvious political maneouvres.”

“The commander of the military will always get drawn into politics,” Gatot told reporters in Banten, during preparations for TNI’s anniversary celebrations which were held last Thursday.

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“But it’s state politics, not practical politics. The military remains neutral in practical politics,” Gatot, who is due to retire in March next year, said.

Gatot under fire
Gatot came under fire for his claim last month that an “institution outside the TNI” had illegally imported 5000 military-standard weapons. The claim had pit the TNI squarely against the police and forced Chief Security Minister Wiranto — himself a former TNI commander — to clarify matters.

Last month Gatot also ordered soldiers to hold screenings of a Suharto-era propaganda film depicting the killings of six army generals on the fateful night of September 30, 1965.

The murders were part of a failed coup attempt that was blamed on the now-banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and led to an anti-communist pogrom that historians say killed up to 3 million people.

Large crowds, including children, were herded to watch the often violent film, which failed to mention the military-backed retaliation against the communists that followed.

Gatot’s claim of the illegal weapon import and his order to screen the propaganda film were mentioned in a list published in Kontras’s note on Wednesday along with other incidents that also involved the TNI commander since May last year.

The list, Kontras argued, “showed the military still retains its ambition to bring back dwifungsi”.

“We should keep in mind that almost all members of the current military elite were raised under the climate of dual function,” Kontras activist Puri Kencana Putri said.

“They were trained to be a force that won’t just stay put in the barracks.”

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