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This week in Jakarta: Herculean rivalries

This week in Jakarta: Herculean rivalries
Published 3 Jul 2015 

An Indonesian military aircraft crashed into a residential area in North Sumatra this week, killing 142 people at last count. In Jakarta, the tragedy gave President Jokowi the chance to again take sides in the simmering tension between the military and the police.

The Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft was headed to the Riau Islands on Tuesday when it crashed only two minutes after take-off from an airbase in Medan. The transport plane was a US-made model from the 1960s, which had been in use by the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) since 1980. The high death toll was due not only to the crash happening in a residential neighbourhood, but because aside from the 12 TNI personnel onboard, the aircraft was carrying more than 100 civilians, a practice which the Air Force chief confirmed was strictly prohibited. Defence Minster Ryamizard Ryacudu and Vice President Jusuf Kalla defended the practice, saying it was commonplace and provided a valuable service to civilians in remote areas.

Jokowi did not condemn the transportation of civilians by the military either, instead taking the opportunity to call for greater resources to be allocated towards modernising the TNI. The President has already pledged to almost triple the defence budget during his term, from around $7.2 billion at the time of his election last year to $20 billion when his term ends in 2019. In the wake of this week's crash he stressed that Indonesia should aim to eventually produce and maintain its own weapons and equipment, rather than buying or accepting them from foreign suppliers. [fold]

Incoming TNI commander Gatot Nurmantyo agreed, telling a closed session at the House of Representatives on Wednesday that the military should give priority to domestic suppliers, or at the very least ensure technology transfer when buying from foreign suppliers. Nurmantyo is Jokowi's pick for TNI chief, against the wishes of the President's party and the reform-era convention of rotating the position among the army, navy and air force. Nurmantyo, currently the army chief of staff, looks set to replace another army figure, General Moeldoko, as TNI commander as early as next month.

Meanwhile, Jokowi was far more critical of the National Police this week when attending a celebration of its 69th anniversary in Greater Jakarta on Wednesday. Speaking at the celebratory event, Jokowi gave a stern warning to the police to regain public confidence by cleaning up corruption and 'mafia' networks within the force. The President also reminded police of 11 priority programs that he had requested be carried out, in line with his theme of a 'mental revolution' for Indonesia. 

Allegations of corruption within the police force have been the bane of Jokowi's presidency. His nomination of Budi Gunawan for police chief earlier in the year sparked public outrage, since Budi was seen as the favoured pick of Megawati, Jokowi's party leader. Deferring the vetting of Budi as a candidate to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) only triggered a mudslinging war that nearly brought down the well-trusted anti-corruption body. Despite all the drama, Budi was still inaugurated as deputy to the new police chief Badrodin Haiti in a closed-door ceremony in April.

As a leader struggling to find support within his own party, let alone from other political powers, Jokowi has developed a close relationship with the military, allowing what many observers have called an encroachment of the armed forces into civilian affairs. His supportive response to this week's tragedy involving unauthorised civilians in a TNI aircraft is another example of a trend which is ringing warning bells for critics who remember Suharto's repressive dwifungsi or 'dual-function' role for the military, which was responsible for both internal and external security during the New Order. It will be interesting to see how the relationship develops once Jokowi's own pick for TNI chief is in charge.

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