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Relations between Australia and the Indonesian military have never been better?

February 27th, 2014

The Jakarta Post this morning publishes an interesting theory on Australian-Indonesian relations – relations might be tense between Jakarta and Canberra, but between Canberra and the Indonesian Military (TNI), things have never been better.

The commentary, written from Perth by Lauren Gumbs, described as a writer who holds a Masters in communications from Griffith University in Queensland a Masters in human rights student at Curtin University, appears on the paper’s main op-ed page under the headling “Australian government bypasses Jakarta, builds ties with military”.

Indonesian officials are in disbelief that special life rafts carrying undocumented migrants were given by Australian authorities for the purpose of sending back migrants but concede that there might be a special agreement between Australian and Indonesian defense force chiefs.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa remains steadfast in opposing the coalition’s boat U-turns despite six reported incidents where boat people have been pushed back or even sent back on new lifeboats purchased solely for that task.

And President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, deeply concerned about impositions on sovereignty as well as public ire, is still smarting after the phone-tapping furor and recent accidental maritime incursions.

The TNI however, previously told to beef up maritime border protection and point its radar Australia’s way, has been largely silent on rhetoric about threats to Indonesia’s sovereignty from Australia and somehow missed two giant orange life rafts being chaperoned around the sea for several days before finally being nudged back toward Indonesia.

The article speculates on the role of TNI commander Gen. Moeldoko in dealing with Australia’s policy of returning boat people.

27-02-2014 bypassThe article concludes:

Indonesian lawmakers are angry at this latest Australian “provocation”, however Singaporean fighter planes crossed into Indonesian airspace this week, demonstrating that threats to Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty can come from other directions, and extenuating the way that the TNI has reasserted itself into the political debate.

With such sovereign and domestic threats featuring on the horizon, and the endless corruption scandals biting chunks out of democratic legitimacy, some fear that Indonesian voters may turn towards the strong leadership offered by presidential candidates with a military background. Indeed, Prabowo Subianto, a former general, is second in line to the throne after Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (so far an unofficial candidate).

The presence of conservatively nationalist military actors in the political sphere signals retrograde forces at play in Indonesia’s still vulnerable democratization.

In Indonesia politics can be a largely patrimonial game, so if Australia enjoys special cooperation on a controversial humanitarian issue now it may one day have to return the favor.

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