Domestic security disturbances take many forms. Unfortunately, in the context of Indonesia’s current situation, these are too often manifested in horizontal conflicts based on ethnic and religious differences, land disputes, or simply because of misunderstanding between two groups living in the same neighborhood.
Vertical conflict frequently occurs between the security apparatus and groups of people, namely workers, the poor and students, either taking the form of demonstrations or protest rallies.
Based on a national survey in 2012, a polling agency and research institute suggested that the government take extra measures to deal with social conflicts.
A high number of respondents were dissatisfied with the government’s performance in preserving public order and safety.
However, social conflict is a complex problem as it involves many dimensions, not to mention the political economy interests of elites that may trigger the violence. Identifying the roots and solutions of conflict is no easy task, even for specialists and experienced mediators.
Within that framework, the recent Presidential Instruction No. 2/2013 and memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police, which enables the deployment of military personnel to quell unrest without the consent of local police, need to be explored.
The instruction confirms the crucial role of local leaders (governors and local bureaucrats) in handling security disturbances.
In that sense, the government is basically decentralizing the authority to do so to local governments. For the sake of public safety, a governor holds the power to assess the level of emergency and vulnerability.
The instruction, however, as stated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto, is in line with the Social Conflict Law endorsed by the House of Representatives last year.
Taking the presidential instruction into account, local leaders should take more decisive action in responding to potential and real social conflicts in their region.
The tasks of police, soldiers, or intelligence personnel in particular areas where conflict seems to be violent and destructive are part of the governor’s decision.
The policy of social conflict management in Indonesia is relatively civilian-driven, because a local leader is elected directly by the people and oversight can be conducted by the regional legislative council.
The role of the central government is, in one way or another, diminishing and the tendency to adopt a hard power approach from the local police and military command can be ideally reduced through consultation between different stakeholders in the area.
However, in the wake of strong criticism from human rights activists against the presidential instruction and, furthermore, the MoU, the problem of “domestic disturbance” is much broader than just coordination puzzles among the security apparatus and local civilian government.
The lack of coordination is one thing, but the quality of Indonesian democracy in the bigger picture also plays a crucial role. We cannot neglect the influence of the development of security sector reform and the rule of law on domestic security as well as on public order.
The recent performance of the security apparatus in conducting its duties is unsatisfying.
Instead of preventing or mediating conflict, the security apparatus has become a perpetrator of human rights violations. As a consequence, it is not surprising if particular segments of civil society think that attacking the security apparatus is an act of breaching the law that can be justified (see CSIS-Indonesia National Survey, January-July 2012).
There is likely something that needs to be changed within our security apparatus. Thus, in the context of the presidential instruction and the MoU, the interpretation of social conflict, communal conflict and domestic disturbance needs to be closely examined. And in doing so, the participation of civilian elements is imperative.
The governor, along with the local legislature and civil society, should discuss the nature of conflict and the best way of stopping social grievances and retaliation. At the end of the day, they should be aware that handing over the solution to the police or military is simply unsustainable.
The government should understand public criticism. With varied degrees of interpretation, we are of the same opinion that since Reformasi, our security apparatus has transformed itself into a more professional, sophisticated institution. But, as the government itself also realizes, such reform is not enough. There is much homework to be done, beyond issues surrounding human rights violations.
If we look closer at the latest report from Transparency International entitled “The Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index 2013”, the index is actually diversified into six bands: A for low risk of corruption (Germany and Australia), to F for critical (the likes of Algeria, Angola, Cameroon).
Indonesia lies in the E category, which means “at very high risk of corruption”. Other countries in the same bracket are Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The report stated that, in Indonesia and Philippines, “financial corruption is a concern” (p. 19). The issues of corruption are found within the controls of asset disposals and enormous off-budget expenditure.
Within this situation, NGO activist critics find their resonance. There is no urgency, and never will be, to give carte blanche to the military and entire branches of the security apparatus, including the police and intelligence personnel, to do what they think needs to be done in a situation of turmoil, such as deploying more personnel without the consent of the police and other officials, including the civilian element within a region — as agreed in the MoU (The Jakarta Post, Jan. 30, 2013).
With all due respect, all these criticisms can actually be traced from the ambiguity of the President’s position in managing social conflicts in Indonesia.
On the one hand, he stated that local leaders must work hand in hand with the central government and coordinate social conflict prevention mechanisms. On the other hand, he is also encouraging military personnel to become involved in domestic disturbances without giving them clear and specific guidance.
We should not forget past experiences, notably during the New Order era, when human rights and the rule of law were swept under the terms of “development” and “stability” by a militaristic regime.
Public political action to question any tendency toward strengthening the security apparatus presence within society is a must. Such acts are relevant to what Nomi Claire Lazar (2009) questions: Danger is a common element of political life, but why should danger and emergency be the central element?
Taking all the above into consideration, the transparency and accountability of the security apparatus must come first.
The writer is a researcher at the Research Centre for Politics, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (P2P-LIPI).