The story of Indonesia’s ongoing political reformation, the “Reformasi” is a long one. Despite the success of independence struggles from the Dutch between 1945 to 1949, President Sukarno gradually shifted from democracy towards authoritarianism, dubbed “Guided Democracy.” An alleged attempted coup by the communists in 1965 saw General Suharto take power from President Sukarno and institute his own authoritarian “New Order”. For three decades, backed by military support, inside and outside of parliament, Suharto ruled Indonesia, and, supported by the US government, encouraged foreign direct investment in Indonesia, which was a major factor in the subsequent period of substantial economic growth. However, the "New Order" was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition, with over a million thought to have been killed under the repressive regime, within Indonesia as well as human rights abuses in Tanah (West Papua) and Timor-Leste.
The Asian Economic Crisis was the catalyst for a major paradigm shift in Indonesian politics. Being the hardest hit by the crisis, this led to popular protest against the New Order which led to Suharto's resignation in May 1998 and handing over of power to the power over to the Vice President B.J. Habibie. In 1999, East Timor voted in a UN-supervised popular referendum to secede from Indonesia, after a twenty-five-year military occupation that was marked by international condemnation of repression of the East Timorese. Since 1998, Indonesian political and governmental structures have undergone major reforms. One of those who has played a key role in the reforms, which includes the transition of power from the military to the state, from within the Indonesian armed forces is Lt. General (Ret.) Agus Widjojo.
Agus (as he introduced himself on joining a lunch with former Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. N. Hassan Wirajuda), is the former Vice Chairman (Deputy Speaker) of the National Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) Chief of Territorial Affairs. He is regarded as one of the TNI’s leading thinkers. During his appointment as Commandant of the Armed Force’s staff college, the TNI think tank, he was responsible for restructuring the political and security doctrine of the TNI. He also serves as a member of the Indonesia-Timor Leste Joint Truth and Friendship Commission and is a member of the advisory Board of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, Udayana University as well as an advisor to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He has also visited Fiji in the past to speak on Indonesia’s transition.
Agus, whose father was one of the generals kidnapped and killed in the first days of the coup in 1965, was one of the first intakes at the joint Indonesian Armed Forces Military Academy (AKABRI) established by Suharto in 1967. By the beginning of the Refomasi in 1999, a number of the “Class of 1970”who were the first to graduate from AKABRI realised that conditions had changed in Indonesia and that instead of maintaining the status quo, the military had no option but to adapt to evolving social expectations and demands. Agus was part of a smaller group in the military leadership who saw the need for immediate and radical change. As a result, instead of consolidating power in the vacuum left by Suharto’s resignation, the military opted to reform itself from a political force to a professional military focusing on the constitutional role and authority of national defence under civilian supremacy in a democratic political system.
Since 1959, there had been military representation, not elected but appointed, in the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) – the Indonesian Parliament. Under Suharto, the military and police representation was 100 out of 500 seats. Following the 1999 elections, 38 seats were reserved for the military/police faction. Agus became the “leading light”of the evolutionary change group and, as head of the military and police faction in the People’s Consultative Assembly, was instrumental in convincing the military leadership to withdraw the last vestiges of its legislative representation in 2004, five years earlier than 2009 as previously scheduled. It was not an easy process. It was hard to break old habits.
“The military was not prepared for this transition, it was forced by the circumstances of the Asian Crisis,” said Agus, over coffee. “How did we manage the transition? By trial and error. There was a fear of leaving governance to civilians only, so it was a slow decrease of the militarisation of government positions. We decided that is was better for the military to leave the political arena with dignity than be forced by politicians, so we gave up the assembly seats in 2002 instead of the expected 2009.”
According to Agus, the yardstick of TNI’s role in the democratic and political changes was based on the principle TNI would leave the democratic transition process to the civilian politician, and that the less TNI involved itself in the democratic and political transition the more TNI contributed to the democratic and political transition.
“We gradually demilitarised the police and left law enforcement and internal security to them under the regional government while the military, under the central government is responsible for external security and assisting in agriculture and infrastructure development.”
In an interview given in 2012, Agus said, “Although Indonesia has now experienced 14 years of her transition to democracy, by all means it is far from completion. We went through a period of having 4 presidents in 6 years. Indonesia is still in the process to progress from democratic transition into democratic consolidation where ‘democracy is the only game in town’. We still see the unavoidable characteristic of a democratic transition such as the struggle to establish an effective government which is able to deliver its promises and move from procedural democracy to a more substantive democracy. In this transition Indonesia is still in the process to establish an effective function of the rule of law.”
At the same time, the “Reformasi” has resulted in the establishment of new institutions to allow better quality of checks and balances and control, such as the Constitutional Court, the National Commission of Human Rights, and the Commission for The Eradication of Corruption.
“True believers are needed from both the civil and military leadership to ensure this transition takes place,” said Agus.
“People need to trust in the police to enforce laws rather than the military. We need to ensure that our best and brightest don’t just go into politics but realise that they are needed in civil society. And we need to transform the culture of strong leadership, into a culture of collective authority.”