Will Prabowo’s Win Increase the Military’s Influence In Indonesian Politics?

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Will Prabowo’s Win Increase the Military’s Influence In Indonesian Politics?

The army’s influence has been on the rise over the past decade. Will this continue under the ex-general’s leadership?

Will Prabowo’s Win Increase the Military’s Influence In Indonesian Politics?

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto arrives at a ceremony where President Joko Widodo promoted him to the rank of four-star general in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 28, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/Prabowo Subianto

In the wake of the recent presidential election in Indonesia, a pivotal question looms large: Will the next leader usher in a new age of military influence in civilian life?

The contest, held on February 14, saw three candidates vying for the nation’s highest office: former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, and Ganjar Pranowo, the ex-governor of Central Java. Prabowo performed impressively, winning an estimated 57.41 percent of the 117,711,615 votes tallied thus far. While the official results have not yet been announced, Prabowo’s significant lead has already elicited congratulations from a host of world leaders from Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.

However, Prabowo’s victory has given rise to a broader concern. The crux of the matter is not the democratic process itself, despite claims of fraud by Prabowo’s opponents, nor the continued domination of political dynasties and money politics in Indonesia. The real issue at hand is the potential for a dramatic shift in Indonesia’s democratic trajectory, through the reassertion of military power both domestically and internationally.

Prabowo, a figure with deep military roots and recently presented with the country’s second-highest military honor by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, now stands at the cusp of assuming the presidency. This prospect raises critical questions about the future role of the military in Indonesian politics and whether Prabowo’s leadership might pivot the country towards a greater military involvement in civilian life.

Prabowo’s Vision

Given his background, Prabowo’s ascendancy to Indonesia’s presidency could produce a significant recalibration of the nation’s military and diplomatic strategies. Prabowo’s tenure as minister of defense since 2019 provides a compelling preview of what his presidency might entail, especially in terms of enhancing Indonesia’s military stature both regionally and globally.

Under Prabowo’s stewardship, Indonesia’s defense strategy has been marked by significant advances in global military rankings. By embracing a policy aimed at restoring Indonesia’s stature through military strength, Prabowo has elevated the country’s position in the Global Firepower Index. Since assuming control of the Defense Ministry, Indonesia has risen to 13th among 145 nations in 2023, up from 16th in 2019, surpassing regional and global powers like Singapore, Israel, Malaysia, Egypt, and Australia.

Prabowo’s approach to defense is not just about rankings but entails substantial investments in military hardware and modernization efforts. His leadership has facilitated the acquisition of 42 fighter jets for the Indonesian Air Force, and has involved a concerted push towards modernization of the armed forces’ equipment and an expansion of the military through the establishment of reserve components. Furthermore, Prabowo has championed the development of Indonesia’s domestic defense industry, advocating for the procurement of locally produced military equipment, thereby reinforcing national capabilities and self-reliance.

Prabowo’s realist perspective on international relations, characterized by a keen awareness of the power dynamics at play, informs his strategic priorities. He has articulated a vision in which military strength is indispensable for national sovereignty, drawing parallels to the vulnerabilities faced by nations like Palestine. This viewpoint underscores the importance of a robust military to safeguarding Indonesia’s wealth and territorial integrity.

At the regional level, Prabowo’s defense diplomacy has been characterized by a pragmatic balance between competing global powers. His tenure has seen enhanced cooperation with the United States, especially in response to China’s expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific. This collaboration has manifested in increased military engagements, including joint combat training exercises that have grown both in scope and scale. The Super Garuda Shield exercises, in particular, have facilitated deeper defense and foreign policy dialogues between Indonesia and the U.S., focusing on maritime security and other strategic areas.

Concurrently, Prabowo has sought to engage China, recognizing its historical role in Asia and the importance of economic ties for Indonesia’s military modernization efforts. At the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2022, he emphasized the need to respect China’s resurgence as a major civilization, indicating a nuanced approach to handling Beijing’s rise. This dual strategy of aligning with the U.S. for security cooperation while maintaining economic partnerships with China illustrates Prabowo’s adept handling of Indonesia’s strategic interests in a complex international arena.

Should Prabowo ascend to the presidency, these elements of his foreign policy and defense strategy hint at a future where Indonesia not only boosts its military capabilities but also navigates the intricacies of great power politics with strategic acumen. This delicate balancing act, leveraging military modernization and international partnerships, could redefine Indonesia’s role on the global stage, ensuring its sovereignty and enhancing its regional influence.

Military Dominance At Home?

At the same time, a more prominent role for security in Indonesia’s foreign policy raises the possibility of an increased military presence in the country’s political and bureaucratic institutions. The contemplation of such a shift invokes a complex dialogue, particularly in light of recent proposals to amend the legislation concerning the role of the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) within the realm of national defense and security.

The crux of the debate centers around the government’s initiative to revise Law No. 34/2004 regarding the TNI, aiming to expand its functions not only as a tool of national defense but also as an instrument of national security. This proposed legislative revision has ignited concerns within civil society, prompting fears that augmenting the military’s role in domestic security could effectively grant it a “blank check” for military involvement in the country’s internal affairs. Critics argue that this could pave the way for human rights violations and a reversion to the military’s role during the authoritarian New Order regime, a period when the armed forces performed a “dual function” that gave it a prominent role in governance and daily life.

Despite these apprehensions, evidence to support the likelihood of such a transformation under a Prabowo administration remains speculative. Nevertheless, Jokowi’s recent enactment of Law No. 20/2023 adds a layer of complexity to the discourse. A key provision of this law allows for active military and police personnel to occupy civilian positions, a move that could potentially facilitate the expansion of the military’s footprint in the civilian sector. However, the specifics of how this provision will be implemented remain undefined, and the existing TNI Law does delineate restrictions on the civilian roles that active military personnel can assume.

This scenario underscores the views of many within Indonesian civil society, who are wary of the potential for a Prabowo presidency to herald a more pronounced military influence in civilian life. While direct evidence of such an outcome is currently absent, the debate itself signals an underlying concern over the balance of power and the preservation of democratic principles. The dialogue surrounding the proposed legislative changes serves as a reminder of the delicate interplay between security and liberty, and the need for vigilant oversight to ensure that efforts to bolster national defense do not compromise human rights or undermine the foundational tenets of democratic governance.

While his leadership may herald a new era of enhanced military capability and strategic diplomacy, it also raises important questions about the future of civil-military relations in Indonesia. The nation’s ability to navigate these waters will be crucial in determining the trajectory of its democracy, the safeguarding of its civil liberties, and the preservation of its role as a beacon of democratic governance in the region.