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Indonesia’s anti-terror law: crisis to consensus

How Indonesia moves rapidly from statement to agreement on contentious revisions to anti-terror laws.

Prayer for the victims of the terrorist attacks of Surabaya (Photo: Anton Raharji via Getty)
Prayer for the victims of the terrorist attacks of Surabaya (Photo: Anton Raharji via Getty)
Published 25 Oct 2018   Follow @greta_nabbs

This is the first of two articles examining the politics behind Indonesia’s revised anti-terror law in the wake of the May family suicide bombings. The second article is available here.

On 25 May 2018, less than two weeks after a series of suicide bombings and armed attacks on churches and police posts in East Java and Sumatra, Indonesia passed a revised anti-terrorism law.

The Surabaya attacks, which included suicide bombings by mothers and their young children, shocked both the public and the nation’s political leaders. The attacks had been preceded by a 36-hour hostage siege at the headquarters for Indonesian National Police (POLRI) Mobile Brigade in south Jakarta, where Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) extremists executed five officers.

The pressure of crisis

The attacks awoke the nation to the fact that women were not just participants in countering and preventing violent extremism, but increasingly active perpetrators.

These were unprecedented developments for Indonesia. Each presented a disturbing shift in the modus operandi of violent extremists and an escalation of ISIS-linked threat. The attacks awoke the nation to the fact that women were not just participants in countering and preventing violent extremism, but increasingly were active perpetrators.

The initial church attacks involved the deaths of Dita Priyanto, his wife Puji Kuswati, and their four children, ranging from 9 to 17 years in age. The following day a family on two motorcycles detonated themselves at a Surabaya police post. The only family member to survive the bombing, an eight-year-old girl, was rescued from the blast by a police officer.

The passage of the revised law (Undang-Undang Anti-Terorisme No.5/2018), just nine days after the last of the attacks, was especially notable given that the proposed changes had been subject to a protracted two-years of deliberation in Indonesia’s legislature. For the world’s largest Muslim majority country, where many of its citizens have embraced an Islamic identity previously suppressed under authoritarian rule, the law’s definitions and powers had been highly contested.

Yet the rapid passage of the revised law illustrates three important things about process and influence in Indonesia’s contemporary security policy-making.

Presidential powers

First, the aftermath of Indonesia’s deadliest attacks since the 2002 Bali bombings, revealed President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo’s willingness to assert his executive authority over the legislature (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) on an issue of vital national security concern.

The President along with his senior security officials travelled to Surabaya to inspect the scene of the attacks and address the media. It became clear in both their statements and sense of shock that the suicide attacks involving young children rendered further delay of the anti-terrorism law untenable.

In the day following the initial church attacks, President Jokowi gave the legislature an ultimatum to finalise the change by the end of its June sitting term or he would use his executive powers to issue a Governmental Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu). This step came upon the advice of Jokowi’s trusted POLRI Chief, General Tito Karnavian. It meant, in effect, that the legislature would be bypassed on an issue of critical national importance.

Joko Widodo (Photo: Eduardo M.C/ Flickr)

An unlikely consensus

Second, the disturbing nature of the suicide bombings, particularly the weaponisation of young children, facilitated a consensus not evident previously between the legislature, executive and security forces on a deeply divisive public policy issue.

Indonesia’s legislature was equally shocked by the attacks. No party or faction wanted to be seen as obstructing the negotiation process. Nor did they wish to be perceived as supporting such transgressive acts. It was at this juncture that both the legislature and the cabinet agreed to set aside their differences and work quickly toward a compromise.

As conservative parliamentarians and Islamic political parties had a key stake in achieving consensus on the law, it will be interesting to see whether this acts as a constraint on future rhetoric or conduct which buoys radical sentiment. In July, an early win from the revised law saw the Indonesian Government declare JAD an illegal organisation.

Unity of security forces

Third, the explicit recognition in the revised law that the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) has a legitimate counter-terrorism role further codifies the place of the military’s role in domestic security, with broader implications for the Indonesian polity.

General Karnavian, TNI Commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs General (ret) Wiranto worked closely with Pansus Chair, Muhammad Syafii, to ensure timely agreement on the revised law.

The fact the final law was “less” than what many key stakeholders had wanted can be regarded in some part as a measure of its success. The negotiations between security chiefs and the legislature, which preceded an eventual agreement, revealed the subordination of partisan aims and institutional interests in pursuit of a higher national policy objective.

In the wake of the May attacks, closer operational coordination between TNI-POLRI became increasingly apparent. General Karnavian acknowledged he had requested that Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus) personnel be involved in the hunt for terrorists following the attacks. Further joint intelligence and operational arrangements were publicly acknowledged.

Significantly, the revised law affirmed counter-terrorism as part of TNI’s “core tasking and functions”. The extent to which provisions that currently govern military counter-terrorism deployments under specific operational command arrangements (BKO), as part of exercises or upon police request (callout powers), remains contingent upon a Presidential Decree (Perpres); an instrument of executive authority which does not require parliamentary approval.

Indonesian Special Forces (James N. Mattis/Flickr)

A yardstick for democracy

Ultimately, it was Jokowi’s threat to assert executive powers that proved a critical factor in achieving consensus on Indonesia’s revised anti-terrorism law. But the expedited passage, spurred by crisis and which involved the conscious subordination of partisan interests, illustrates a level of maturity in Indonesia’s democratic polity that has in recent years been lacking.

For activists and concerned citizens, the law’s affirmation of the military’s role in counter-terrorism signals a potential further retreat from the key tenets of earlier security legislation that mandated a clearer delineation between POLRI’s internal security responsibilities and TNI’s external defence role.

Deep concern on the part of civil society will remain over the return of the military as a law enforcement instrument. The nature of the supplementary Presidential Decree clarifying TNI’s role in counter-terrorism may well be a yardstick for the shape of Indonesia’s future democratic polity.

Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church, Indonesia (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty)

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