JAKARTA: The Indonesian military is taking on more roles in civilian life, a think-tank warned Monday, almost two decades after the armed forces’ wings were clipped following the downfall of authoritarian ruler Suharto.
Think-tank the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report that under President Joko Widodo, who took office in October, the military has once again expanded its influence into the civilian sphere.
“The longer they stay engaged in such activities, the greater their political clout and the harder it will be to extract them, especially given that they are effectively immune from prosecution under civil law,” the report warned.
The armed forces have gradually expanded their influence in civilian life by signing agreements with ministries, allowing them to take on such tasks as distributing fertiliser, guarding prisons and public and private infrastructure, IPAC said.
This month the military reached a memorandum of understanding with the national anti-narcotics agency to help with the country’s war on drugs, a campaign that is being pushed by Widodo, who has ordered the execution of foreign drug convicts.
The report said the military appeared to be taking advantage of a weakened president who has been beset by numerous crises and a deeply corrupt, unpopular police force.
Rights groups were also worried about the armed forces’ growing influence.
“It could be that the president is closing his eyes to this to gather support from the military given his weak political support in parliament,” Al Araf of rights group Imparsial told AFP.
“We fear that the past—of violence and human rights violations—could happen again.”
The armed forces committed numerous human rights violations during the decades-long rule of Suharto, who was himself an army general, and following his downfall in 1998 and the introduction of democracy, they were stripped of much of their influence in public life.
Its members lost the right to become provincial governors, cabinet ministers or members of parliament and the military was limited to defence roles.