Apr 17, 2024 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Apr 15, 2024

In the line of fire

Over the last two years Abri has faced intense debate over its political role as defined in the doctrine of dual function, or dwifungsi. The doctrine states that Abri has not only a conventional state security role but also, more controversially, a role in politics. The media did much to bring the 'dwifungsi problem' into public discussion. When Abri's appointed parliamentary seats were reduced from 100 to 75, they described it as a necessary step for democratisation. When army chief Hartono declared that all Abri members were cadres of the ruling party Golkar, they vigorously debated the (loss of) Abri neutrality. When defence minister Edi Sudradjat claimed that, regrettably, many thought of Abri as a tool of the rich, they interpreted it as a sign ofdwifungsi misconduct.


Perhaps reflecting the growing critical mood, more than ten formal seminars were held the year before the last election in 1997 to discuss the future role of Abri. One controversial seminar at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lipi) in February 1997 suggested that Abri should totally withdraw from parliament by 2007. This gave the impression thatdwifungsi had become an open topic for public discussion. But was it a signal of the diminishing role of Abri? If not, what does the growingdwifungsi debate imply? Abri views the trend with suspicion. At an air force seminar in May 1996, Tamlicha Ali, head of Abri's general planning section, claimed the current dwifungsi criticism was being used by certain groups to discredit Abri, and could lead to national instability. The next month, an army seminar complained that some people still questioned Abri's twin role, wishing to end it and hence to change 'Pancasila democracy'. At a private Surabaya seminar in November 1996, Hartono warned of the influx of liberal thoughts into Indonesia as a result of globalisation. He said criticism of dwifungsi was based on a different framework of thinking. In Abri terms, 'different' thinking can easily be interpreted as thinking opposed to the official ideology Pancasila. Abri has long linked criticism of the regime with political instability. But in the recent debate Abri faced criticism from many more directions. They were sometimes attacked by civilians in the government, sometimes by students with political aspirations, and sometimes stabbed in the back by old buddies.

Intellectual retirees

Abri's response to its critics, meanwhile, has become more dogmatic. Retired Lt-Gen Hasnan Habib challenged this dogmatic response at an Abri seminar held in September 1996 to formulate input to the national policies for 1998-2003. The seminar had concluded that criticism ofdwifungsi was due to a mistaken view that saw a dichotomy between civilian and military affairs. Abri saw this as a western way of thinking. However, Hasnan asserted it was not the dichotomy that was being questioned, but the excesses of dwifungsi itself. Pressure from other retired generals followed. Two months later retired former army chief General Rudini spoke at a seminar held at Abri's staff command college. In his paper entitled 'social legitimacy of Abri's sociopolitical role' he suggested a need to renew the dwifungsi conception, and said Abri representation in parliament was unnecessary. Another intellectual retiree, Maj-Gen Z A Maulani, insisted at the army staff command college on the same day on the need to redefinedwifungsi, and for Abri no longer to take sides in labour and land conflicts. Taking sides would undermine the virtue of dwifungsi, he argued. On another occasion, Abri commander Feisal Tanjung, reflecting the critical mood, admitted it was ironic that the very success ofdwifungsi encouraged its criticism. These highly respected retired officers were never labelled as 'too westernised', as were some civilian activists voicing similar opinions. But this is not to deny a general dissatisfaction among active Abri leaders towards outspoken retired officers. Many still in service supported Suharto's accusation that outspoken retirees were being inconsistent. In the aftermath to the Jakarta riot of July 1996, Feisal said some of them were not loyal to the nation and encouraged current political unrest.

Talk too much

Growing 'vocalness' of former Abri leaders has contributed to the opening up of the dwifungsi debate today. In the late 70s and early 80s the critical campaign was somewhat dominated by certain retired soldiers, such as A H Nasution, Ali Sadikin, Dharsono and Sumitro. But after a generational change in the mid-80s, the number of retired officers increased dramatically. In the 90s, many academy-educated officers entered the non-active sector and started to back the intellectual campaign for dwifungsi reform. In tandem with this, the intellectualism of current officers has provided fertile ground for the debate. One military leader of the 80s notes it as a pull-factor: 'Today's officers talk too much'. This is a real dilemma for Abri. Facing increasing demands for democracy, today's 'intellectuals in uniform' think it necessary to promote dialogue with society, to explain the future utility of dwifungsi. But the dialogue may itself legitimise the critical approach being brought into the public debate. It is in this context that Abri seeks a new format fordwifungsi legitimation. Such an attempt was made at the army seminar mentioned above. 'Empowering political infrastructure' became Abri's official slogan. It defined dwifungsi as a tool for promoting wider communication between the state and society. But can Abri share civilian language? Maj-Gen Zacky Anwar Makarim, an intellectual officer who now commands Abri's intelligence body, implied there are officers who speak civilian political language. Unlike typical Abri rhetoric that dogmatically reiterates the state ideology, Zacky asked Hasnan Habib in the Surabaya seminar about a possible shift in the balance between authoritarianism and liberalism. As an example, he mentioned 'successful' South Korea. Zacky was at that time an assistant to Hartono, who had denied the advent of liberalism a few hours before in the same room. In the mid-60s, Zacky was a student activist.


On the other hand, some civilian commentators have no time for Abri at all, with or without civilian language. As if representing the 'empowered' society, columnist Christianto Wibisono argued it was a myth to seedwifungsi as part of Indonesia's uniqueness. Rather he saw it as a feature common in many 'praetorian' military regimes. He was challenging Abri's customary use of cultural relativism in explaining dwifungsi. So too the Lipi seminar and its report proposed the total demilitarisation of parliament by 2007. This 239-page book was probably the first systematic collection of civilian assessments of dwifungsi, approaching it from various perspectives. It was also the most progressive proposal ever made by a governmental organ. Though the immediate feasibility of the proposal still seems to be low, many civilian elites expect it to be one of the guidelines in the lobbying process of post-Suharto political transformation. Perhaps feeling the need to prevent the debate going out of control, Abri held another seminar at the national resilience institute (Lemhanas) two months after the Lipi seminar to disseminate a 'correct' interpretation of the future of dwifungsi. One of the more popular officers, Lt-Gen Hendropriyono, admitted the need for reorienting and redefining Abri's political role, given the erosion of traditional values within Abri in the face of globalisation. But he emphasised that dwifungsi should remain, because it was aimed at democratic practice.


Abri's recently established interpretation now runs thus.Dwifungsi can be redefined. The principles remain, but its implementation can be flexible, and it is directed to democratisation. Yet at the same time, the current dwifungsi language is full of dichotomies. While it says 'don't dichotomise between civilian and Abri', it does dichotomise between the west and Indonesia, between the principle (dwifungsi) and the practice (posting officers to non-military jobs - kekaryaan), between Abri as a sociopolitical force and Abri as a defence force, between Abri as an institution and Abri as a citizen, and so on. The debate itself, of course, does not reflect the reality. Democratic activists say cynically that this opening up of a previously taboo discussion does not mean an end to repressive operations by the security apparatus. Many think that even if the dwifungsi concept changes, the territorial structure will remain, so Abri's political role will not diminish. However, this does not deny the change in political communication. The 'openness' debate in the early 90s at least expanded the scope and depth of legitimate demands on the regime, which in turn gave a support base to reformers within the regime. Given the reality that, as elsewhere in the world, the pace and degree of democratisation are primarily determined by the regime elite, there is no reason to stop giving support to the potential reformers. Can the current dwifungsi debate be incorporated in this process of change? One 'inside' player says optimistically: 'It is like the previous debate about openness. Once it starts rolling, the system can not find a legitimate reason to stop it'. Recent critics, as if to prove the truth of this prediction, have employed a new method. They criticise the results of dwifungsi, without criticising dwifungsi itself. The Lipi seminar insisted that its proposal was not to reject dwifungsi but to reform the political structure resulting from kekaryaan. This tactical borrowing of Abri language, which distinguishes the principle of dwifungsi from its practice of kekaryaan, shows that civilian elites have now started to reinvent the dwifungsi language in order to criticise dwifungsi. How it develops in real politics is still uncertain. Some at least expect it to erode Abri's monopolistic interpretation of dwifungsi over the previous three decades. Jun Honna is a PhD student at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.

Inside Indonesia 53: Jan-Mar 1998

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