[Jakarta, 17 July 2023] The next president of Indonesia will find it difficult to reassert strong civilian control of the military because of the many ways that current President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has allowed its erosion. It is also not clear that all candidates see the reassertion of that control as desirable.
“Civil-Military Relations in Indonesia after Jokowi” the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) traces the ways that civilian oversight mechanisms of the military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) and Ministry of Defence have declined since Jokowi took office in 2014.
“It wasn’t that Jokowi deliberately set out to make the military more powerful,” says Deka Anwar, IPAC analyst. “It was rather that his political interests coincided with the TNI’s institutional interests – and with the personal political ambitions of his Defence Minister, Prabowo Subianto.”
The new report explores the consequences of Jokowi’s lack of interest in keeping the military in check and what the consequences could be if Prabowo, now a candidate for president, is elected in 2024.
The backsliding on civilian control has involved opening up more and more civilian positions to active-duty officers, replacing civilian defence ministers and many of their subordinates with retired officers, expanding the TNI’s non-military roles, expanding its territorial command structure, and failing to subject military budgets and procurement procedures to close scrutiny.
These developments have often served Jokowi’s interests of building a circle of trusted allies, expanding his political coalition, and encouraging faster and more efficient infrastructure development. He has been aided in his reliance on the military by the TNI’s generally positive image among the Indonesian public.
The report notes that while the interests of the TNI as an institution and Prabowo Subianto as Defence Minister and political candidate do not always coincide – indeed are often at odds – Prabowo as president could seek to further expand the military budget, territorial commands, and some internal security functions. He is on record as advocating an increase in the number of regional military commands from the current 15 to 38 – meaning one in every province.
Under the circumstances, the report notes, the most effective check on military power will lie in the national parliament and a strong political opposition.