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date: 26 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Indonesia is a highly revealing case study for pinpointing both the conditions under which militaries in postcolonial societies intervened in political affairs and the patterns that led to their subsequent marginalization from politics. It also demonstrates how militaries could defend some of their political interests even after they were removed from the highest echelons of power. Emboldened by the war for independence (1945–1949), the Indonesian military used divisions, conflicts, and instabilities in the early postindependence polity to push for an institutionalized role in political institutions. While it was granted such a role in 1959, it used a further deterioration in civilian politics in the early 1960s to take power in 1965. Military intervention in politics in Indonesia, then, has been as much the result of civilian weaknesses as of military ambitions, confirming Finer’s theory on the civilian role in military power quests.

Military rule in Indonesia weakened first as a consequence of the personalization of the polity built by the leader of the 1965 takeover, General Suharto. After a decade in power, Suharto turned the praetorian regime into a personal autocracy, transforming the military from a political actor into an agent. When Suharto’s regime collapsed in 1998 after being hit by the Asian financial crisis, the military was discredited—allowing civilian rulers to dismantle some of its privileges. But continued divisions among civilian forces mitigated the push for the military’s full depoliticization—once again proving Finer’s paradigm. As post-Suharto presidents settled into the new power arrangements, they concluded that the military was a crucial counterweight against the possible disloyalty of their coalition partners. Thus, under the paradigm of coalitional presidentialism, rulers integrated the military into their regimes and granted it concessions in return. In short, while the post-1998 military is much diminished from its role in predemocratic regimes, it retains sufficient power to protect its core ideological and material interests.

Keywords: Indonesia, military, autocracy, democratization, presidentialism, civil–military relations, military in politics

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