The military has always played a prominent role in the Indonesian nation. Under the New Order, it was elevated to the dual role (dwifungsi) of maintaining law and order and participating in governance but was also guilty of gross human rights abuses. After the fall of the New Order in 1998, the military was forced to undergo extensive reforms, which included the withdrawal of the military from civilian and governmental affairs. However, 20 years after the beginning of post-Suharto reforms, the military has yet to acknowledge or come to terms with its role in some of the darkest moments in Indonesian history, such as the anti-communist killings of 1965-66.
Over recent years, analysts have noticed the military’s growing influence over political and civilian affairs. The popularity of former military leaders like Prabowo Subianto has also led many to comment that there seems to be a nostalgia for a more militaristic style of leadership among the public. Are we witnessing the return of the military in Indonesian politics? How has the military been able to maintain its centrality in Indonesian society over the decades?
I explore these issues with historian Dr Jess Melvin, Postdoctoral Associate at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney. Dr Melvin was previously Henry Hart Rice Faculty Fellow in Southeast Asian Studies and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Genocide Studies at Yale University. Dr Melvin’s first book “The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder”, was published in early 2018 by Routledge.
The Talking Indonesia podcast is co-hosted by Dr Charlotte Setijadi from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, Dr Dave McRae from the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute, Dr Jemma Purdey from Monash University, and Dr Dirk Tomsa from La Trobe University.
Photo by Saptono for Antara.