Has civilian leadership failed Indonesia’s reform movement?

My heart sank  when I read the news the other day that more than 50,000 soldiers would be deployed to help farmers achieve President Joko Widodo’s goal of self-sufficiency in rice production for the next two years.

So the commander in chief has ordered professional soldiers to trade  guns for hoes and ploughes and wade through muddy rice fields.

As desperate as it may sound, this is not the first time soldiers have been assigned jobs outside their professional role for the Indonesia’s armed forces (TNI).

The Army’s elite commandos- Kopassus- have taken part in cleaning the garbage-clogged Ciliwung river as part of the city administration’s efforts to prevent annual floods.

Just recently, the highly respected Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) also asked the TNI to fill its secretary-general position and contribute investigators as KPK has been embroiled in what many perceive to be an inter-agency feud with the police.

The speculation of a conflict between the police and the KPK came to the fore again after the police arrested senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan for his alleged involvement of an assault case dating back in 2004. The police are also investigating KPK top officials – Abraham Samad and  Bambang Widjojanto – now suspended – in separate, old cases.

Jokowi, under public pressure, has demanded an end to the witch-hunt against KPK, but his calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Some say the police have more respect for Jokowi’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is a retired army general.

SBY is also the founder and later chairman of the Democrat Party, allowing him to lead on his own terms. In contrast, Jokowi is only a “party officer,” to use the term popularised by PDI Perjuangan chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Perhaps Indonesians should start getting used to an increased presence of TNI in public life, as various ministries are also queuing to enlist soldiers to help and do civilian tasks.

Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan and TNI chief Gen. Moeldoko have signed a memorandum of understanding allowing the military to deploy armed personnel to secure vital transportation hubs.

Under this agreement, all seaports, airports, railway networks and bus stations in the country will officially be under the protection of TNI personnel.

The Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly signed a cooperation agreement with the TNI under which the military will deploy its personnel to guard prisons throughout the country as the ministry does not have enough qualified prison guards.

A opinion poll conducted recently by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) found that the public’s trust in the TNI was at an all-time high.

Respondents to the survey placed the TNI as the most-trusted institution, in the same league as the presidency and above the KPK. Meanwhile, the National Police ranked sixth out of 11 institutions.

This raises a critical question: Whatever happened to so-called civilian supremacy?

Shouldn’t local leaders be the ones who send farming instructors to help farmers? Shouldn’t people who throw their garbage to the river be held accountable for their action? And what do you mean exactly Mr. Yasona, when you say we don’t have enough prison guards?- Shouldn’t the police be at the forefront of  fighting  crimes and providing domestic security after they were separated from the military 15 years ago?

The TNI was used by the late president Suharto to guard his presidency for more than three decades. Under Suharto, the military was assigned the “dual function” role – both as a security and political entity, allowing its presence even in the nooks and crannies of the vast archipelago.

There was a time when democracy activists joked “You can’t say the D (democracy) word, because all walls have ears”.

But then the wind of change came and Indonesia today is the third largest democracy in the world.

One of the most significant achievements of the reform movement  was to create a  clear line between security matters and defence. This was formalised in a People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) decree in 2000.

But the civilian leadership has been hollowed out by power and corruption, a danger recognised clearly by Lord Acton.

Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) listed 47 directly elected regional leaders who were involved in graft cases in 2014, up from 35 in the previous year. Some say, to become a governor, one needs funding of around Rp 100 billion (US$11.14 million), while the governor’s salary is only Rp 8.7 million per month.

A recent ICW report states that the regional budget has become the biggest contributor to the potential losses to the state due to corruption cases that have occurred in the first half of 2010. According to ICW data, corruption cases of the regional budget in 2010 have cost the state about Rp 596.23 billion, out of a total of Rp 1.2 trillion in state losses due to corruption.

So while civilian leaders are busy enriching themselves- basically ignoring the people who directly voted for them- they are asking the military to clean up their mess, and do their jobs.

People are fed up with 15 years of corrupt leadership just like they were fed up with the same thing for three decades.

Civilian leaders should start to get their act together and do their jobs, or people will lose faith in democracy and yearn for the return of  “the good old days” of autocracy.

Should the latter happen, those who sacrificed their lives fighting for “Reformasi” 17 years ago will roll in their graves.

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