Commentary: Myanmar learnt the wrong lessons from Indonesia’s political transition

NEW DELHI: Before Myanmar transitioned to a quasi-civilian authorities in 2011, the army management intently studied the mannequin of Indonesia’s democratic transition.

Indonesia had been a fellow ASEAN member state and each side shared very related historic experiences.

Forged in the crucible of a wrestle for independence, the militaries of each nations had performed a decisive function in the creation of their nation-states. They expanded their roles into state administration, civilian life and enterprise conglomerates that offered some semblance of nationwide stability.

READ: Commentary: Defiance in Myanmar’s diplomatic ranks threatens the military’s power

Such an train may have shiny spots. After all, Indonesia’s emergence as a contemporary democracy, with a flourishing civil society and a well-respected armed forces that enjoys increased ranges of belief from the public than even its personal president, makes it a mannequin worthy of emulation.

The gradual discount of its army’s function in politics and switch of energy to a civilian authorities, regardless of burgeoning racial tensions and separatist considerations, may very well be instructive for Myanmar.

But it appears Myanmar not noted lessons from this second chapter of Indonesia’s historical past.

READ: Global alarm grows as more protesters killed in Myanmar crackdown


Indeed, Myanmar’s coup to revive order and nationwide unity in the nation might need taken heed of Indonesia’s instance.

General Suharto’s coup in the Nineteen Sixties got here on the again of an influence wrestle between opposing, antagonistic forces of the military, who had fought in opposition to the Dutch for Indonesia’s independence, and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), who tried to style their very own militia.

Indonesia, although disparate and various, was as soon as united beneath the banner of driving out the Dutch and embraced a nationwide ethos of Pancasilla (one beneath God).

Suharto ruled Indonesia from 1967-1998

Suharto led Indonesia as president from 1967 till his ouster in 1998. (File picture: AFP)

The cracks in the political coalition started displaying as soon as the nation gained independence. Then President Sukarno had been an influential, charismatic chief however that wasn’t sufficient to carry the nation collectively.

He ultimately proved too weak to maintain in verify these irreconcilable forces he had introduced collectively beneath a system of “guided democracy” to assist his rule.

The economic system was in shambles, whereas communal strife noticed an uptick. Muslims had been disillusioned with the Communists overrunning the nation and redistributing land away from farmers.

More importantly, a brand new Cabinet reshuffle threatened to throw out the army generals, together with Abdul Haris Nasution, then Coordinating Minister for Defence and Security, and diminish their function in politics.

READ: Commentary: Indonesia’s new Cabinet and the political transformation of Joko Widodo

READ: Commentary: Indonesia’s vaccination policies seem to favour the young and rich

It was on this context that Suharto, commander of the Indonesian strategic reserves (KOSTRAD), acted to grab energy and launched a New Order regime. 

But Suharto’s 32-year reign discovered standard assist from Indonesians who needed to see the nation strike a distinct path.

He was dedicated to reaching political order, financial growth, and mass participation in the political course of via the army’s territorial command which pervaded the countryside and villages.

Suharto consolidated energy via management of the armed forces, Golkar and the People’s Assembly and patronage. But this political stability led to financial growth. Growth proceeded, at a median of seven per cent a yr. Schools, roads and telecommunications mushroomed.

And for many years, the Indonesian armed forces saved separatist forces on the fringes, in Aceh, West Papua and East Timor.

Tear gas and fire extinguisher gas float around demonstrators as they run away from police during a

Tear gasoline and hearth extinguisher gasoline float round demonstrators as they run away from police throughout a protest in opposition to the army coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Mar 8, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)

One can see why a coup was a sexy plan of action for the Tatmadaw, going through an more and more standard political adversary in the type of the NLD threatening to water down the army’s affect.


But whereas the Myanmar army might need been impressed by the embers of Indonesia’s New Order regime, they’ve failed to soak up the lessons of Indonesia’s democratic transition.

While Suharto’s coup might need ushered in a golden interval for the younger nation, he knew when to step apart after shedding legitimacy. He knew he had misplaced political assist after the 1997 Asian monetary disaster unleashed huge financial disruption and racial riots.

Factions of the army not thought he had authority, after he didn’t take decisive motion and despatched the Indonesian rupiah into free fall, whereas a pro-democracy motion gained momentum.

Most importantly, in April 1998, Suharto rejected a proposal by army hardliners to declare a state of emergency, selecting as an alternative to switch energy beneath the constitutional framework of the New Order regime to his vice-president BJ Habibie.

READ: Commentary: Indonesia has amended 79 laws to boost investment and jobs. But that may yet not be enough

READ: Commentary: Jokowi needs to do better in making economics his priority for Indonesia

After the civilian political leaders took over, the function of the army’s involvement in politics was intentionally decreased. The army was renamed the Tentera Nasional Indonesia (TNI) in October 1998 and noticed its home inside safety features separated to kind the nationwide police pressure in 1999.

In 1999, the illustration of the TNI in the House of Representatives (DPR) was additional slashed to 38 seats, with the eventual purpose of whole separation. The share of TNI illustration in the provincial legislatures was additionally decreased from 20 to 10 per cent.

Moreover, throughout the 1999 normal election, the TNI demonstrated its neutrality by refraining from endorsing Golkar.


In their try to mimic the Indonesian mannequin of democratic transition, the Myanmar army has demonstrated an intent to switch energy however has constantly stopped wanting doing so.

FILE PHOTO: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's commander-in-chief, shakes hands with Na

FILE PHOTO: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, shakes fingers with National League for Democracy (NLD) occasion chief Aung San Suu Kyi earlier than their assembly in Hlaing’s workplace at Naypyitaw December 2, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo/File Photo

The army adopted the 2008 structure, guaranteeing a transition to quasi-civilian rule and for our bodies elected by Myanmar’s bicameral legislature to take over in the remaining stage. But this 2008 timeline was already a delay from then Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt’s announcement of a seven-step roadmap to democracy in 2003.

The army additionally subsequently crafted electoral legal guidelines prohibiting anybody convicted from becoming a member of a political occasion, requiring the National League for Democracy (NLD) to expel its chief Aung San Suu Kyi with a purpose to take part, which pressured the occasion and its allies to boycott the 2010 election.

Although it was an enormous win for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) supported by the army, Myanmar got here beneath heavy criticism by the worldwide neighborhood.

READ: Commentary: With violent crackdowns, is Myanmar passing the point of no return?

The army reluctantly reached an settlement with the NLD, permitting it to contest in the 2012 by-election, which noticed Western democracies carry sanctions and set up diplomatic relations. This boosted the nation’s economic system and infrastructure initiatives, which suffered neglect in the a long time earlier than.

The army dominated the nation with absolute authority for nearly 5 a long time (1962 to 2010), and one other 5 years (2011 to 2015). 

Perhaps underestimating Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation, it thought it may win the 2020 election with assist from different aligned events or no less than safe a larger margin of victory in comparison with the 2015 election however was confirmed wrong.

A coup was launched after baseless claims of electoral irregularities. Flimsy prices have been filed in opposition to Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies, whereas NLD leaders have had to enter hiding.

READ: Commentary: Is China using Myanmar coup to ramp up influence in Southeast Asia?


Despite its try to observe the Indonesian mannequin, the Myanmar army did not pursue the path laid out by Indonesia’s democratic transition. At the coronary heart of it, the Tatmadaw just isn’t prepared to surrender energy.  

It’s not laborious to see why. Last yr, the NLD launched a laws proposing a gradual discount of the army’s share of seats in the nationwide parliament, state legislature and regional legislature from the current 25 per cent to fifteen per cent after the 2020 election, 10 per cent after 2025, and 5 per cent after 2030.

People wearing protective gear line up to vote at a polling station during the general election in

People carrying protecting gear line as much as vote at a polling station throughout the normal election in Taungup, Rakhine State, Myanmar on Nov 8, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Stringer) 

The NLD additionally proposed decreasing the requirement for constitutional amendments to have greater than 75 per cent of parliamentary votes to “two-thirds of elected representatives” which excludes army appointees.

The army rejected these proposals, justifying its response on the foundation that the nation confronted threats to its nationwide sovereignty, the rule of regulation and stability.

After the NLD’s landslide victory in the November 2020 polls, the army additionally maybe harbours fears of repercussions for human rights violations and the Rohingya disaster as soon as extra energy is handed over to the NLD.

Then once more, it would really suppose it’s the solely nationwide establishment that may maintain the nation collectively.

Whatever it’s, it seems like this stop-go relationship with democratic transition in Myanmar could also be the nation’s actuality for some time.

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Dr Nehginpao Kipgen is a Political Scientist, Associate Professor and Executive Director at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. He is the writer of three books on Myanmar, together with Democratization Of Myanmar.


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