The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) is pushing to find jobs for hundreds of its inactive officers in the civilian bureaucracy, a move pro-democracy activists see as an alarming regression towards the military’s dwifungsi (dual function) doctrine which prevailed during president Suharto’s 32-year authoritarian rule.

President Joko Widodo appears to be supporting a proposed amendment to the 2004 TNI Law, allowing underemployed officers to take jobs in a broad range of ministerial and other civilian institutions and relieve a logjam in the ranks of the 300,000-strong Indonesian Army.

But the legislation is only in the early stages of discussion and National Defense Institute governor Agus Widjojo, who played the leading role in getting the military out of politics two decades ago, says he senses civil society’s reaction is already causing an official rethink.

“I expected it,” he said of the military’s latest move, which despite the public uproar stems more from its failure to produce a personnel management plan than any desire to revive dwifungsi as it was originally conceived. “It is our easygoing way of doing things without any analysis to determine what our needs are.”

Widjojo, a retired lieutenant general, says the new plan is based on “one dimensional analysis” which ignores the side effects or any long-term solution. “It is not a way to solve the problem of officers who don’t have jobs. If you don’t control it now, it can get out of hand and expand,” he told Asia Times.

According to military spokesmen, there are already at least 70 senior officers, including two three-star generals and as many as 700 mid-ranking officers, who have no designated jobs and are not benefiting from the allowances that normally come with them.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (2nd R), accompanied by top General Moeldoko (L) and General Gatot Nurmantyo during the inauguration of an Indonesian army military exercise in Baturaja, southern Sumatra island in 2016. Photo: AFP/Presidential Palace/Rusman
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (C) during the inauguration of an Indonesian army exercise in 2016. Photo: AFP/Presidential Palace/Rusman

In early February, Widodo authorized a plan to upgrade 21 of the 26 Type B Korems, or resort commands, among the army’s 15 regional commands to Type A status, creating new slots for brigadier generals and freeing up positions for an estimated 150-200 colonels. There are currently 19 Type A resorts.

Under Article 47 of the TNI Law, active officers can currently hold jobs in 10 different institutions, including the Political Coordinating Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the National Defense Institute, the National Search and Rescue Agency, the anti-narcotics and counterterrorism agencies and the Supreme Court.

But TNI commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, a Widodo loyalist who came to the job with little genuine command experience, has publicly supported the army’s idea of transferring up to 400 other inactive officers into other corners of the civilian bureaucracy.

Insiders say the generals are concerned that without anything to do, unhappy colonels might either stray towards religious extremism or shift their loyalty to the camp of rival presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces and Army Strategic Reserve commander.

The president is apparently also worried about the number of veterans groups who are now reportedly backing Prabowo. “They have to do something,” says one military analyst. ”They need to find a quick fix. There aren’t enough slots for the officers coming up.”

That’s partly because of a 2005 extension to the retirement age from 55 to 58 for general officers, fewer internal security threats since the days of the East Timor and Aceh rebellions, and a failure to bleed off officers if they don’t make the grade by a certain age.

Widjojo recalls that only 24 officers from his 1970 academy class qualified to attend the Army Staff and Command College (Seskoad). Today, there are more than 300 students, a sign that the policy of filtering officers into the higher echelons isn’t working.

Indonesia's army forces paint their faces for celebrations of the 72nd anniversary of the Indonesia military, in Cilegon, Indonesia Banten province, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta
Indonesian soldiers paint their faces for celebrations of the 72nd anniversary of the Indonesia military, October 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta

Non-commissioned officers, on the other hand, must do 10 years’ service before being considered for officer training. Under that long-established process, they are already at retirement age by the time they attain the rank of colonel.

Australian military analyst Bob Lowry, a former army attache in Jakarta, says the idea of simply reducing the number of recruits to the Indonesian Military Academy makes little sense when there is actually a shortage of junior officers in the army.

Shedding colonels and one and two-star generals ahead of retirement appears to be a better longer-term solution, but that will change what is effectively a womb-to-tomb vocation into a genuine profession, a move that is likely to meet strong resistance from within the TNI.

Maritime Coordinating Minister Luhut Panjaitan, a retired four-star general and senior presidential adviser, supports the latest move.

“It has nothing to do with the revival of dwifungsi, people are just making that up,” he said in late February. “Should maritime security be handled by people who don’t know the issues?”

About 100 officers are already attached to the Marine Security Agency, but what alarmed activists was Widodo’s recent appointment of Lieutenant General Doni Monardo as head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the first active general to fill the position.

Indonesia-Special Forces-Prabowo Subiantro-Youtube-
Presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto (C) during his special forces days. Photo: Facebook

Monardo, 55, the former secretary general of the National Defense Council, had previously been one of three generals in line for army chief of staff, a position that ultimately went last December to politically connected General Andika Perkasa, a 54-year-old bodybuilder.

Perkasa graduated from the military academy in 1987, two years after Monardo, whose 1985 classmates and those of 1986 now have few places to go despite the fact that they do not reach retirement age for another three to four years.

Officers from those two classes currently hold seven of the 15 regional commands, all two-star positions, while another two 1987 graduates have already risen above their seniors to the rank of lieutenant general.

Dwifungsi was first introduced during a period of martial law in 1957 and then expanded when Suharto took power a decade later to include “every effort and activity of the people in the fields of ideology, politics and economics and in the socio-cultural field.”

By 1980, serving military men held as many as 8,156 positions in all levels of government, from city mayors and provincial governors to ambassadors, state enterprise executives, jurists, parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers.

That number had been reduced to about 6,000 in 1995, three years before Suharto’s demise and the dawning of Indonesia’s new democratic era.

Both beneficiaries of a Western education, Widjojo and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, then chief of staff for socio-political affairs and later national president, initiated the first moves to get the military out of politics just two months after Suharto’s resignation.

Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deliver a speech during campaign for Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, candidate in the running to lead the Indonesian capital Jakarta, in Bogor, Indonesia, February 8, 2017, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken February 8, 2017. Antara Foto/Yulius Satria Wijaya/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. - RTSYNEV
Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono delivers a campaign speech February 8, 2017, Photo: Antara Foto/Yulius Satria Wijaya/via Reuters

The ever-cautious Yudhoyono wanted only a slow step-by-step process, but the more progressive Widjojo soon drafted the first of two New Paradigm reform agendas that, with grudging top-level agreement, would change the relationship between the military and new civilian government.

Over the next two years, the police was separated from the armed forces chain of command and active duty officers were ordered to leave their posts in the bureaucracy and either take early retirement or return to the military, which many did.

Then president Megawati Sukarnoputri allowed unelected officers to stay in Parliament after reducing their number from 100 to 75, and it wasn’t until 2002 that the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country’s highest legislative body, scrapped military and police representation there altogether.

Two years later, just months before Yudhoyono became the country’s sixth and first directly elected president, the remaining 38 military and police appointees finally vacated the newly-expanded 550-seat Parliament.

The TNI’s pervasive territorial structure remained in place, but Yudhoyono issued a decree placing all military businesses under the umbrella of the Defense Ministry, in a bid to improve their corporate governance.

After that the military kept a generally low profile until successive TNI commanders, first General Moeldoko, now Widodo’s chief of staff, and then General Gatot Nurmantyo, began to seek a wider domestic role for the military and openly talked about their own presidential ambitions.

Indonesian military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo gestures as he sits in his car after talking to reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta
Then Indonesian military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo gestures to reporters in Jakarta, January 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta

Fearing it may represent the thin end of the wedge, pro-democracy activists continue to question why military officers who either retire or voluntarily leave the service opt for careers in politics.

On the national stage, only seven retired military officers, including five generals and two colonels, won seats running for four out of the 10 successful parties in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

One, Lieutenant General Andi Ghalib, who spent his entire career as a military judge, died in 2016 after serving variously as attorney general in Indonesia’s first democratic era government, ambassador to India and finally as a single-term lawmaker.

Perhaps the best known is Major General Tupagas Hasanuddin, 66, a PDI-P legislator on the foreign affairs commission and a former senior military aide to presidents B J Habibie, Megawati and Yudhoyono. He is not running for re-election, one of only 6% of incumbents who aren’t.

One army retiree who is, Democrat Party parliamentarian Evert Mangindaan, 76, served during the Suharto era as a Papua regional commander and North Sulawesi governor, and later became bureaucratic reform and transportation minister in Yudhoyono’s second 2009-2014 government.

The only retired military officer to be elected to the Regional Representatives Council (DPD), the country’s toothless upper house, is Major General Nono Sampono, 66, a former marine commandant from Madura in East Java who represents Maluku.

This year, in addition to six retired police generals, there are only 34 senior TNI officers among the 7,968 candidates vying for DPR seats, including one former lieutenant general, 15 major generals, five brigadiers and eleven retirees from the navy and air force.

But Widjojo sees that as little more than a distraction when any Indonesian, civilian or retired military, has the right to run for Parliament. The real question now, he says, is whether the TNI can produce a manpower management plan that will restrict the overflow and ensure jobs for all.