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  • Civil-Military Relations under Jokowi:Between Military Corporate Interests and Presidential Handholding
  • Evan A. Laksmana (bio)

This essay examines the disposition of civil-military relations under President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. It makes three arguments. First, since assuming office in 2014, Jokowi has tended to adopt a hands-off approach in the day-to-day management of military affairs and defense policy. He has relied on a group of retired generals as his intermediary with the Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or TNI). He also gave the TNI organizational autonomy and even encouraged its involvement in nonmilitary domains, from counterterrorism to food-sufficiency programs. Civil-military relations under Jokowi's first term were basically on autopilot.

Second, Jokowi's management of the TNI is not unique. All post-Suharto presidents have had to deal with the same dilemma: how to carefully and closely manage the military without threatening its corporate interests. I develop a typology of the responses to this dilemma to classify and compare Jokowi's civil-military relations with other post-Suharto presidents: B.J. Habibie (1998–99), Abdurrahman Wahid (1999–2001), Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001–4), and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004–14). The typology shows that Jokowi's passive management of the TNI, while protecting the military's corporate interests, is similar to Sukarnoputri's approach. The typology also serves as an analytical baseline to unpack civil-military relations under Jokowi's first term.

Third, civil-military relations during Jokowi's second term are unlikely to be fundamentally different from his first. As far as civil-military relations are concerned, the 2019 elections did not change the fact that Jokowi is a president without his own political party and that he needs the support of the broader security establishment—the TNI and the Indonesian National Police (POLRI)—to execute his agenda. If anything, the polarized presidential campaign against retired general Prabowo Subianto likely will push Jokowi to further rely on the TNI in governance.

The first section compares how different post-Suharto presidents managed civil-military relations. The subsequent section then examines [End Page 63] civil-military relations during Jokowi's first term. The essay concludes by looking ahead to Jokowi's second term and assessing the broader implications for Indonesia's democratic trajectory in the coming years.

Comparing Post-Suharto Civil-Military Relations

Two variables are helpful in classifying civil-military relations in post-authoritarian Indonesia. The first is presidential handholding: the degree to which the chief executive (i.e., the president) is involved in managing the military and formulating national defense policies.1 Depending on individual traits (e.g., political support or professional background) and political authority, the president may be more or less willing and able to manage the military on a day-to-day basis. How closely the president manages the military shapes the extent to which the organization can set its own policies and how far it is willing to expand its political position.

The second variable is whether the military perceives the presidential handholding to be detrimental or beneficial to its corporate interests.2 Different militaries have different corporate interests, ranging from budgetary autonomy to societal prestige. How the military defines its corporate interests—and the conditions under which they are met or challenged—determines whether civil-military relations will be stable or conflictual. If the military considers the presidential handholding to be detrimental to its corporate interests, it might play the role of political spoiler, whether through disrupting the president's agenda or, at the extreme, launching a coup. But if the military considers the presidential handholding to be beneficial, it is likely to be a partner or supporter of the president.3

Figure 1 illustrates how these variables interact to depict a descriptive typology of Indonesia's post-Suharto presidents and civil-military relations. These two variables are central to the persistent dilemma of post-authoritarian civil-military relations in Indonesia: how to closely [End Page 64]

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Figure 1.

Post-Suharto Presidents and Civil-Military Relations

manage the TNI without risking political backlash. On the presidents' side, each has a different political will and personal authority to closely manage the TNI. On the TNI...


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pp. 63-71
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