Indonesia’s parliament on Tuesday approved Gen. Agus Subiyanto, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s close ally, as the new military chief despite concerns among civil society groups that the departing president was trying to retain power by ensconcing loyalists in top positions.
Some observers and human rights advocates worry about whether the armed forces would remain neutral during the February 2024 general election in Indonesia, a young democracy. The military cast a long shadow through dictatorships that ruled Indonesia for much of its past as a nation.
Some note that Agus was nominated for the top military post only six days after Jokowi appointed him as the army chief. They allege that his interim job was intended to tick off a requirement for the top post.
“We must be alert to the politicization of the TNI in the 2024 elections. Agus Subiyanto’s name … has a great potential to be misused by the president in the election,” Muhammad Isnur, chairman of the Legal Aid Foundation, told BenarNews, referring to the military by its Indonesian acronym.
Agus will succeed Adm. Yudo Margono who is expected to retire on Nov. 26.
The army chief emerged as the sole candidate and was nominated by Jokowi on Oct. 31 before being confirmed by MPs on Tuesday. He is to be sworn in before the president on Wednesday.
Jokowi, who has led Indonesia’s government since October 2014, is due to leave office next October because of constitutional term limits in Indonesia, which transitioned to democracy after the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998.
“Praise be to God, today the DPR [House of Representatives] has given approval for the replacement of the TNI commander, Gen. Agus Subiyanto,” Speaker Puan Maharani said.
Puan said that the DPR’s defense commission had unanimously approved forming a dedicated working committee on military neutrality, underscoring the significance of politically impartial armed forces during the transition to the next government in Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country.
“We hope that the TNI will be able to demonstrate neutrality in accordance with its fundamental role. With the change in command, we aim to maintain this neutrality during this upcoming political season,” Puan said.
“The same applies to all other law enforcement officers. We are committed to conducting a peaceful, honest and fair election,” she said.
Citizens are scheduled to go to the polls on Feb. 14, 2024.
The push for neutrality extends beyond the military, with MPs, particularly those from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), advocating for the creation of a working committee to monitor police and military neutrality.
Agus pledged to strengthen collaboration with police to maintain security during the election period.
“We have briefed commission 1 (defense) on how to maintain TNI neutrality. This includes providing guidance books that every soldier must possess, offering counseling and emphasizing its importance to soldiers at every rank,” he said.
Agus outlined his vision for the military, encapsulated in the acronym “PRIMA” (Professional, Responsive, Integrative, Modern and Adaptive).
He emphasized that achieving these objectives relies on comprehensive training, a merit-based coaching system, technologically advanced weaponry and an enhancement of soldiers’ welfare.
Regarding the election, military spokesman Rear Adm. Julius Widjojono sought to reassure the public that the TNI would steadfastly uphold its impartiality.
“The TNI has official regulations in place to ensure neutrality, and it will take decisive action against soldiers involved in practical politics,” Julius said in a statement to BenarNews.
The campaign period is slated to run from Nov. 28 to Feb. 10, 2024, with polls being opened four days later.
Analysts pose concerns
Defense and security analyst Muhamad Haripin, a researcher for the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), said the military would face a heightened challenge maintaining security ahead of the election. He called this a significant test for Agus.
“With Jokowi stepping down as president and his son entering the competition, concerns arise about explicit or implicit directions to favor certain candidates,” Haripin told BenarNews.
Jokowi’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is the running mate of presidential contender Prabowo Subianto, the defense minister in the president’s second administration who ran against Jokowi in the two previous presidential elections. Prabowo, a former general with the Indonesian army’s special forces, was accused of involvement in human rights abuses during his military career. He is also the former son-in-law of the late Suharto.
The analyst noted that Agus has ties to Jokowi dating to Jokowi’s term as mayor of Surakarta city before being elected to his first term as president in 2014.
Pointing to BRIN records, Haripin said there was a pattern where individuals close to Jokowi had been placed in key strategic positions. Among the current regional military commanders, 26.6% have direct relations with the president.
“While leadership styles may vary, the issue of neutrality remains paramount,” Haripin said.
Analyst Ray Rangkuti, with the election watchdog Lingkar Madani, emphasized the challenges ahead for Agus.
“Neutrality will be a tough task. He must be careful to stay calm while at the same time not take steps that tend to prioritize certain candidates,” Ray told BenarNews.
Ghufron Mabruri, director of human rights group Imparsial, noted that the appointment was inevitably linked to the close relationship between Jokowi and Agus.
“It is only right for the public to question whether this closeness will affect the TNI’s neutrality,” Ghufron said.
He urged Agus to address these concerns and demonstrate his independence ahead of the vote.
“Don’t just respond by attacking people back by asking where the evidence is,” he said.
Source : Eurasia Review