TNI will keep out of politics, says Widodo

It aims to be a professional force and so politics will be out of bounds, says chief; but analysts remain sceptical.

Indonesia’s top military commander said yesterday that the armed forces (TNI) would withdraw from national politics amid persistent public doubts that the once-powerful institution would return to the barracks.

Admiral A.S. Widodo told reporters, at the end of a two-day leadership meeting here, that the military’s sociopolitical function had been abused in the last three decades and this hampered efforts to turn itself into a professional defence force.

“But, over the last year, we have adopted a new posture which shows that we are strong and genuine in our commitment not to interfere in politics,” he said.

“The aim now is to concentrate on becoming a professional military.”

He cited the TNI’s neutrality in the general election in June last year and the presidential polls a few months later as examples of instances where the military had steered clear of the political process, something unthinkable a decade ago. “Whoever in the TNI decides to take an active part in politics … should first resign from his unit and from the military.”.

His comments came as senior officers were reviewing the existing territorial command structure across the sprawling archipelago that gave the military a reach right down to village level and ample opportunity to dabble in politics. Analysts, however, doubt whether the system would be dismantled, given the difficulty of forging a consensus among the generals, many of whom are still conservative in their political outlook and fear it would only aid separatist forces.

Besides this, critics charged that there had been instances where military officers had intervened publicly in political matters to register that the TNI was still an active participant.

The most recent example was army chief Tyasno Sudarto’s pledge that the military would support President Abdurrahman Wahid against forces that threatened to hold a special national assembly session in August to topple the six-month-old administration.

It was not the first time that Gen Tyasno had voiced his support for Mr Abdurrahman, with some military sources even suggesting that such statements were aimed at furthering the four-star general’s political ambitions.

“Politics will continue to colour the actions of several officers who see it as a way up to the top,” said an army general.

Some of the local newspapers were critical of Gen Tyasno’s comments. Noted the daily Republika: “Such statements would obviously lead people to ask whether the TNI, at present, is truly neutral or whether it has gone back to serving as a prop for those in power.”

But despite such criticism, the general belief is that the military is less a political tool of the government today than it was during the days of Suharto.

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