In recent years, the Indonesian political scene has come alive with a host of old and new faces introducing themselves to the public. But ahead of the elections, analysts have raised concerns over the participation of former members of the military in politics, which they warn could have negative implications for the country’s democratic process. Edy Prasetyono, a researcher with the University of Indonesia’s Center for International Relations Studies (CIReS), said the participation or support of several military retirees on the political stage may negatively impact the public’s perception of the institution and prompt them to conclude that the military was failing to abide by the principle of political neutrality. “Their contributions to various parties could cause ruptures in the military,” Edy said at a discussion on Tuesday, adding that this form of support might violate the military’s obligation to maintain its neutrality during elections. This year’s elections sees People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) founder and retired Army general Wiranto, who was the last military commander under then-president Suharto, running for president, as well as another former Army general, Prabowo Subianto, the founder of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
Pramono Edhie Wibowo, who retired from his post as the Army chief of staff last year, is in the running as one of the Democratic Party’s possible presidential candidates.
Edy said that despite there being no prohibitions regarding former military officers’ involvement in the elections, their status as former members of the institution may still make their bids unethical.
“Because they carry the name of the military, it gives a ‘negative’ impression that the military is playing in politics,” he said. “We’re just trying to protect the military from misunderstanding.”
Edy said, however, that trying to restrict retired and active members of the institution may be a challenging task, especially if they were approached directly by the political parties. “They can’t be blamed because it’s not them who initiate the move but the parties who are trying hard to recruit prospective commanders or retired military officers as part of their jockeying,” he said.
He urged the country’s security forces not lapse back into the ways of Suharto’s New Order regime, when electoral fraud was committed publicly, such as announcing the winner before the election even began. “There is no such thing as a sacred election. Our demands for the security forces — the police, the intelligence community and the military — to be neutral is still far from reality,” Edy said.