Growing numbers of former military and police officers are running and winning regional elections in Indonesia. This has led to concerns about their resurgence in the politics and government administration of the world’s third-largest democracy.
Our preliminary research shows 55 former military and police officers ran in Indonesian regional elections between 2015 and 2020.
The data also show the numbers of former officers running in regional elections are increasing (except for 2017, due to small sample size).
This trend suggests military or police careers continue to be potent political resources 20 years after the New Order regime’s fall. The military participated actively in politics and administration during three decades of authoritarian rule. Abuses of power helped Suharto’s administration retain power.
Indonesia’s transition to democracy in the late 1990s changed this. The military’s role in politics and policymaking was annulled. However, our study indicates military and police officers continue to wield informal influence in politics and administration today.
What motivates these former officers to enter politics? Our analysis of the backgrounds of candidates, using data from Indonesia’s Elections Commission, has identified at least four factors.
Why officer run for elections
First, a legal loophole is a key factor enabling officers to run in regional elections. The Law on Regional Elections and the implementing regulation released by the Election Commission permit active military, police and civil servant officers to run and campaign as political candidates for the larger part of the electoral season.
The regulation only requires candidates to resign from their posts 30 days before counting votes.
This potentially allows active personnel to misuse the power of their office to gain an unfair advantage over their rivals. It also reduces the personal career risks for military and police officers seeking political office.
Second, military and police officers’ difficulties in gaining promotion have encouraged them to stand in regional elections.
The army has a backlog of roughly 500 colonels and over 100 generals without positions commensurate with their rank and qualifications.
Third, our data highlighted personal and institutional ties to particular regions that influence their decision to run.
Former officers are more likely to run in elections in their native regions or in regions where they previously held staff positions.
These criteria also determine their chances of winning.
A candidate who is a native and held a staff position in the region has a higher likelihood of prevailing.
For example, senior adjunct police commissioner Lismidianto was a native and had worked in the Bengkulu Regional Police Office before winning the 2020 Kaur Regency election. He won together with eight other candidates with similar characteristics. Candidates with such a background had a winning rate of 40%.
For candidates who met only one of the criteria, their win rates were much lower.
Fourth, robust support from political parties is another important factor.
Most former officer candidates were nominated by political parties (89%).
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), National Democrat Party and Democrat Party were more likely than the other political parties to nominate candidate pairs with at least one former officer candidate.
Many former officer candidates received strong support from parties, highlighting the parties’ confidence in their strong electoral potential.
One example is Oloan Nababan, who was adjutant to former Army Strategic Reserves commander Edy Rahmayadi. He and his pair were nominated by all six parties (25 parliamentary seats) in the local parliament and won the election.
Impact on democracy
Our analysis shows military officers’ continued role in the political landscape presents a mixed picture for Indonesia’s democracy.
On the one hand, we find that the desire of military and police officers to enter politics has more to do with personal advancement than about advancing the institutional interests of the military or police.
In other words, these officers are mainly motivated by a desire for a second career in politics rather than a concerted attempt to advance their organisation’s interests.
This development results from promotional logjams in the military and police rather than a resurgence of their involvement in politics.
On the other hand, the preference of political parties to opt for quick fixes by nominating former officers with strong sociopolitical capital, rather than nurturing credible candidates within the ranks of party loyalists, reinforces Indonesian politics’ transactional nature.