Indonesia's Modernizing Military

Suharto's New Order Is Old News

Special forces from the Indonesian Air Force march before a ceremony marking the 69th anniversary of the Indonesian Air Force at Halim Air Base in East Jakarta, April 9, 2015. Antara Foto / Reuters

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) is the country’s first directly elected leader who does not have significant ties to the old authoritarian regime of Suharto, who ruled for over three decades until his fall in 1998. But Jokowi has had a rough first year: He was unable to jumpstart the country’s sluggish economy and was politically paralyzed by the entrenched oligarchs within his own party coalition. It is no surprise that he has disappointed his electorate. But the loudest cries against Jokowi center on his new alliances with the Indonesian military and how the military appears to have expanded its reach under his watch.

These critics point out, for example, the growing number of retired officers in Jokowi’s inner circle and cabinet. They also criticize the military’s swelling list of nation-building activities, which include patriotic education and civic-oriented projects, and the expansion of the military’s Territorial Command structure and its counterterrorism role. A recent Foreign Affairs article even claimed that there is a danger of returning Indonesia to a Suharto-style New Order system, under which the military dominates politics and governance.

Although there is some cause for alarm, the historical context and the larger trends shaping civil-military relations reveal that the military’s political footprint has remained largely the same under Jokowi as it has in all the administrations that followed Suharto.


Formally and institutionally, the military has no political role: successive post-Suharto administrations gradually scrapped Suharto’s dual function doctrine, which gave the military parliamentary and cabinet seats, among many other government posts. Now, the armed services have no parliamentary representation and active duty officers cannot be appointed to or hold political office. There is no evidence that Jokowi or the military are actively seeking to undo this reform or others like it.

The head of Indonesia's Armed Forces General Moeldoko (R) congratulates the country's new National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti at the presidential palace, April 17, 2015. Darren Whiteside / Reuters


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