In 1998, Indonesia endeavoured to civilianise its defence department after decades of military-dominated rule. This civilianisation project was widely seen as a crucial element of democratisation itself. But the initiative ended in disillusionment: by 2014, the ministry was again placed under a conservative former general, and in 2019, it came under the control of Prabowo Subianto, an ambitious ex-military leader with strong ties to the pre-1998 autocratic regime. As a result, the reform drive in the ministry came to a halt, and civilians were marginalised again. This article argues that several factors account for this reform failure: first, the ministry’s long subordination to the military prior to 1998; second, the lack of will and power on the part of civilian ministers between 1999 and 2014 to pursue meaningful reforms; and third, a larger roll-back of democratic reforms beginning in the 2010s. Embedding these latest developments in a larger historical context, the article demonstrates that the defence ministry has been a barometer of Indonesia’s fluctuating democratic quality over time.
|Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs
|Published - 2023