Indonesia's military grows in power

  • 19/05/2016
Indonesia's military grows in power

Indonesia's military elite are openly stoking public anxiety about communism, gays and other 'foreign influences', a drive critics say is aimed at seizing a greater role in civilian affairs of the world's third-largest democracy.

However, the military's crackdown on suspected communist activity and ambitions to create a massive civilian defence force are beginning to create unease within President Joko Widodo's administration.

Widodo last week publicly rebuked the military after it detained a handful of Indonesians suspected of spreading communist ideology, the first public resistance by the president to the military's growing influence in everyday life.

"The president has firmly and clearly told the military and police chiefs to bring their forces to order," Cabinet Secretary and presidential aide Pramono Anung told reporters.

Under Widodo, the military has joined the nation's fight against drugs, terrorism and corruption, areas previously reserved for the police.

But a line was crossed this month when soldiers briefly detained two student activists in eastern Indonesia for wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of a hammer and sickle inside a coffee cup. It was the latest in a string of military and police raids against suspected left-wing radicals.

"The reason the local military command gave (for the detentions) was that the men were spreading communism through T-shirts," said Abdon Nababan, head of the organisation to which the two activists in North Maluku province belong. "We protested because military soldiers cannot arrest, interrogate and confiscate property of civilians."

A local military spokesman declined to comment on the detentions.

Security forces have also recently begun seizing leftist books from citizens in an apparent attempt to prevent a feared revival of communism.

Armed Forces spokesman Tatang Sulaiman said the military is working within the law.

"If we find groups spreading communist ideology...or materials that can influence the thinking of the public, then we will act according to the law. Our role is to help the police," he told Reuters.