The TNI, The Jokowi, The Reform and The ''Revolution''


By. Herdi Sahrasad, Indonesia Democracy Monitor (INDEMO) and Lecturer at University of  Paramadina, Jakarta

OPINION-Today, the problem faced by Jokowi and political parties is: It has been 25 years since Indonesia's 1998 reform, or a quarter of a century old. However, the nation's condition has not met expectations. The decay of the political economy continues: The crisis over Jokowi's legacy provides a Time Bomb explosion: corruption is rampant, taxes are rising, prices of basic need are rising, people are getting poorer. There are almost no jobs for 2 million graduates. The state is controlled by the capital oligarchy. Government, BUMN and private debts are actually IDR 17,500 trillion. The amount of debt during the Jokowi era exceeded 100 percent of our GDP, which reached IDR 15,600 trillion. The Sri Mulyani Ministry of Finance's Rp. 349 trillion tax-excise scandal was not resolved by law enforcement. Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani appears to have deliberately planted a Rp. 17,500 trillion debt bomb, plus a Rp. 349 trillion tax scandal and the bankruptcy of state-owned enterprises.

  “What kind of regime is this? Unqualified, manipulative, scary and corrupt,'' said the clerics, intellectuals and academics. 

In this context, in the midst of an economic downturn, rotten rule of law and dilapidated governance, Indonesia is on the verge of collapse. Thus, the TNI and civil society must unite to solve the problem in a consistent, persistent and correct way of constitutional democracy. Substantial democracy with the rule of law, civil society and a just and strong economy, as well as political parties that are clean, strong and credible, strengthened by an independent and free press/media, will enable reform to be reinvented

The political role of the army in Indonesia has been a contentious and evolving issue since the country's independence. The army, which emerged as a revolutionary force against the Dutch colonial rule, has claimed a dual function of defending the nation and participating in politics (Lev, 1963). This doctrine, known as dwifungsi, was institutionalized by President Suharto, who came to power after a bloody coup in 1965 that was blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Under Suharto's authoritarian regime, the army enjoyed a privileged position in the state apparatus, civil society and the economy, while suppressing any dissent or opposition (Rabasa and Haseman, 2002).

 In this review, I will critically examine the historical and contemporary factors that shape the army's political role and the challenges it poses for the Jokowi administration.

The army's political role can be traced back to its origins as a revolutionary force against the Dutch colonial rule. As Lev (1963) argues, the army was never a passive professional institution, but rather a non-traditional one that provided an alternative ladder to success for men who did not belong to the political-social elite. The army also developed a sense of nationalism and a doctrine of "total people's defense and security" that justified its involvement in domestic affairs (Rabasa and Haseman, 2002).

During the Sukarno era (1945-1965), the army faced parliamentary interference and political instability, which led to its defensive and reactive stance. However, after the failed coup attempt by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) in 1965, which was blamed on Sukarno's leftist policies, the army seized power and installed Suharto as the president. Suharto consolidated his authoritarian rule by co-opting the army and granting it a pervasive role in politics, economy and society. The army became a major beneficiary of patronage, corruption and business interests, while suppressing any opposition or dissent (GSDRC, 2011).

However,  Rabasa dan Haseman see that the fall of Suharto in 1998 triggered a process of democratization and reform that challenged the political role of the army. The army was forced to relinquish its formal representation in parliament and other institutions, to withdraw from its business interests and to respect civilian supremacy. Moreover, the army faced new security challenges such as terrorism, communal violence and separatist movements in Aceh and Papua, which required a different approach and capability than the conventional warfare and counterinsurgency that the army was used to (Rabasa and Haseman, 2002).

The current administration of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), who took office in 2014, has inherited a complex and uncertain situation regarding the army's role in politics. On one hand, Jokowi has tried to assert civilian control over the army by appointing loyalists to key positions and by promoting a more professional and modern military. On the other hand, Jokowi has also relied on the army's support to deal with security threats and to balance the influence of other political actors, such as Islamist groups and rival elites. Furthermore, Jokowi has faced criticism for his lack of vision and leadership on military reform and for his failure to address human rights violations committed by the army in the past and present (Fadillah et al., 2019).

The fall of Suharto in 1998, triggered by the Asian financial crisis and popular protests, marked a turning point for the army's political role. The reformasi movement demanded democratic reforms and accountability from the military, which led to some significant changes. The army adopted a "new paradigm" that emphasized its professionalism and neutrality, and withdrew from its formal positions in parliament and government. The army also reduced its involvement in business activities and intelligence functions, and accepted civilian oversight and control (Rabasa and Haseman, 2002).

However, these changes have not been complete or consistent. The army still retains considerable influence and autonomy in security matters, especially in dealing with separatist movements in Aceh and Papua, communal conflicts in eastern and central Indonesia, and terrorism and religious extremism. The army also faces internal challenges such as factionalism, career patterns, funding problems and human rights violations. Moreover, the army has not fully embraced the democratic transition and has shown signs of dissatisfaction with civilian politicians and institutions (Rabasa and Haseman, 2002).

The current administration of Joko Widodo (Jokowi), elected in 2014, faces a delicate balance between maintaining good relations with the army and pursuing further reforms. Jokowi has appointed several retired generals to key positions in his cabinet and has increased the defense budget and modernization plans. He has also supported the army's counterterrorism efforts and its role in handling natural disasters. However, Jokowi has also faced criticism from some military factions for his perceived weakness on national sovereignty issues, such as maritime disputes with China and foreign interference in Papua. Jokowi has also been accused of neglecting human rights issues and failing to address past atrocities committed by the military (GOV.UK, 2017).

In conclusion, the political role of the army in Indonesia is still a contested and unresolved issue that has implications for the country's democracy, stability and development. The army has undergone significant changes since the end of Suharto's rule, but it still retains considerable power and influence in politics. The challenge for Jokowi and his successors is to find a balance between engaging the army as a partner and holding it accountable as a subordinate. This requires a clear and consistent strategy that is based on democratic principles and national interests (Kahin, 2003; Reid, 2011). 

The political role of the army in Indonesia is a complex and evolving phenomenon that reflects the historical, social and economic dynamics of the country. The army has undergone some significant reforms since 1998, but it still poses challenges for democracy and human rights, while the amendments to the UUD45 that went too far and were reckless must be corrected, and the option to return to the original 1945 constitution with an addendum to the presidential term of two terms, needs to be considered. In this regard, we should emphasize that the multifunctional position of Polri is too far from its main duties and functions. This is different from the existence of the TNI which has been far from having a dual function since the 2000s, and the TNI is trying to improve itself for the national interest, something that the Polri must also do as the protector (pengayom) of the people.

In my view, the TNI and civil society (especially pro-people intellectuals) must work hand in hand to overcome social injustice, socio-economic decline and chronic corruption that threaten national cohesion. TNI together with students and civil society should work together to overcome injustice and crime by oligarchs and politicians.The Jokowi administration needs to strike a balance between engaging the army as a partner and pushing for further reforms as a leader.  For Jokowi, all that is not easy to do, but must be implemented before it's too late.


Lev, Daniel S. "The political role of the army in Indonesia." Pacific Affairs (1963): 349-364.

Rabasa, Angel, and John Haseman. The Military and Democracy in Indonesia: Challenges,

Politics, and Power. Rand Corporation, 2002.

GSDRC. "Military Politics, Ethnicity and Conflict in Indonesia." GSDRC Applied Knowledge Services (2011).

GOV.UK. "Military Politics, Ethnicity and Conflict in Indonesia." GOV.UK Research for Development Outputs (2017).





Konfrontasi: The TNI, The Jokowi, The Reform and The ''Revolution''
The TNI, The Jokowi, The Reform and The ''Revolution''
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