The Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) played a crucial role in the transition by conducting a fit and proper test of President Joko Widodo’s sole nominee for TNI commander, Lieutenant General Agus Subiyanto, who was unanimously confirmed by the DPR Defence Commission following a fit and proper test on 13 November. The commission will now request that the DPR approve Subiyanto’s nomination in a plenary session and once approved, Subiyanto will await inauguration as TNI commander by President Joko Widodo.
The upcoming changes in the TNI’s leadership have caused widespread public discussion. A member of the First Commission of the DPR, Bobby Adhityo Rizaldi, suggested postponing the succession of the TNI commander and army chief of staff due to the upcoming 2024 general election. Another appeal from several active and retired soldiers called for a judicial review of Law No. 34 of 2004 on the Indonesian military. This appeal specifically addresses the extension of the age of military service and has been submitted to Indonesia’s Constitutional Court.
The simultaneous retirement of Army Chief of Staff General Dudung Abdurachman and TNI commander Admiral Yudo added complexity to the succession of the TNI commander. The army was long predicted to assume leadership of the TNI. This would result in an army chief of staff serving for only one week, since the TNI Law stipulates that the position of commander must be filled by a high-ranking officer who has served as chief of staff.
President Widodo appointed Agus to replace Dudung as army chief of staff on 25 October 2023. As expected, exactly one week after his appointment as army chief of staff, President Widodo recommended Agus as Yudo’s replacement.
This marks the eighth fit and proper test of a candidate for TNI commander in the DPR since the enactment of the TNI Law, which requires DPR approval of the president’s nominee. Since this is not a new agenda for the DPR, the public had high expectations for an improvement in the quality of the fit and proper test for the next TNI commander. This test is important in ensuring that the quality and capacity of the next TNI commander aligns with the growing threat environment.
It is important that the DPR’s fit and proper test is not a mere formality or procedural step in the selection process. Instead, the DPR holds an important role in examining the quality and capacity of candidates for TNI commander in non-technical areas such as integrity.
This was especially pertinent since Agus will lead the TNI through the challenges of the 2024 general election. During this period, the TNI will play an important role in maintaining the integrity of the election process while also remaining neutral.
Indonesia’s defence budget accounts for only 0.7 per cent of GDP, the lowest among the world’s top 40 economies. Ideally, Indonesia’s defence budget should account for at least 2 per cent of GDP. It is crucial that the DPR continue to explore strategies that the TNI and Ministry of Defence could implement to address these challenges.
Discussions on the improvement, maintenance and treatment of Indonesia’s Primary Weaponry Defence System likely took centre stage during Subiyanto’s confirmation. With the TNI’s limited budget, the DPR needs to continue to inquire thoroughly with the incoming TNI commander on how he will address the government’s Minimum Essential Force target, which is unlikely to be achieved in the next year.
The DPR should also pay serious attention to domestic security issues, especially in Papua. There is a consensus that the next TNI commander should adopt a more humanist approach, prioritising constructive dialogue and involving all stakeholders. This approach was echoed by previous TNI commanders, including Andika Perkasa and Yudo Margono, but was not fully adopted.
Regional tensions are escalating, especially in the South China Sea, and coupled with the introduction of the AUKUS security pact, the DPR must have oversight of the next TNI commander’s strategy in the region. While Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea dispute, it must maintain sovereignty in the North Natuna Sea. The TNI must improve coordination between the Indonesian Coast Guard, Indonesian Water Police, the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
In responding to AUKUS, as in the South China Sea, the TNI is expected to seek to improve and maintain peace in the region. Jakarta must also ask Canberra to fulfil its obligations under the nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
This leadership transition within the Indonesian military is shaping up to be a critical juncture for Indonesia. The incoming TNI commander’s approach to budgetary constraints, domestic security and a changing regional security landscape must continue to be closely examined by the DPR in conducting its supervisory function.
Yokie Rahmad Isjchwansyah is a Master’s Student in International Relations at Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy.