Indonesia’s New National Security Law Proving a Tough Sell

By webadmin on 12:10 pm Oct 14, 2012
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Pitan Daslani

The government is pushing to get a wide-ranging national security bill passed by the House of Representatives, but lawmakers are showing reluctance to deliberate on it over persistent fears that if passed, the law would revive militarism and subvert democracy.

Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Deputy Defense Minister Sjafrie Syamsuddin, Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi and Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin will conduct hearings this week with lawmakers who are seeking clear explanations as to why the bill is necessary. The meetings are likely to take place on Thursday and Friday.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) spokesman Tubagus Hasanuddin said passing the bill would amount to annulling the State Defense Law and Indonesian Military (TNI) Law, because the new legislation seeks to supersede provisions on national security that are contained in the existing laws.

The House may return the draft to the government for a second revision, he indicated, adding that resistance in the legislature was so large that unless President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet made fundamental changes to the draft, the legislature was not likely to consider deliberating it.

Hasanuddin said legislators have raised objections to the law’s granting of exclusive rights to certain agencies to conduct arrests and wire-tapping of phone conversations.

He also questioned the government’s definitions of what constitutes a threat to national security, as well as the president’s right to define threats through decrees. That could be detrimental to the preservation of human rights, Hasanuddin said.

So far, the allegations and fears voiced by lawmakers over the bill have been rejected as completely baseless by Defense Minister Purnomo, who said that the government did not have even the slightest intention of reviving the TNI’s much greater presence in government during Suharto’s 32-year dictatorial rule.

The minister said the national defense legislation seeks to put threats in perspective, with stipulations for dealing with emergencies as varied as famine or invasion by a foreign army, which would oblige the president to seek approvals from the House before acting.

External threats to Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will be dealt with by the TNI, while internal threats to civic order will be handled by police, Purnomo said.

Military and political observers argue that many legislators have raised objection to the national security law without bothering to read the draft thoroughly.

The draft law defines national security as efforts to protect “all aspects of national life” comprising Indonesia’s geography, theft of natural resources, demographic disturbances, and political, economic and sociocultural sectors of nationhood.

Proponents of the law say it would allow Indonesian law enforcers to more effectively battle stubborn threats such as terrorism.

Extreme ideologies and radicalism are listed in the law as threats to the nation’s moral and ethical security, and that definition would allow law enforcers to take a more preemptive role in rooting out terrorists and radicals.

The legislation also seeks to oblige the government to provide workable solutions to such problems as food, water and energy shortages; misuse of dangerous chemicals or radioactive materials; and destruction of the environment.

Social issues such as poverty, injustice and corruption are also listed as threats in the draft.

It is far-ranging inclusions such as those that have some parties welcoming the new law with open arms.

Marwan Ja’far, chairman of the National Awakening Party’s (PAN) faction at the House, said that his party was supportive of the draft because its broad coverage would ensure the protection of Indonesia’s national interests.

“Right now we desperately need this National Security Law in order to protect our rising national interest in all aspects of life,” Marwan said.

Marwan dismissed speculation that the government intended to return to its militaristic past. He said that even if that were the case, he had faith that Indonesia’s flourishing democracy was strong enough to prevent such a thing from occurring.

He added that the country had a growing need to have long-term strategies in place to ensure political, social and economic stability, as well as national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He theorized that the new legislation would also help end overlapping claims of jurisdiction and legal authority that occur between the police, military and other state agencies.

But he cautioned that the legislation must be in line with the State Defense Law, the Police Law, the TNI Law and the State Prosecution Law.

Similar views were aired by Deputy Minister of Defense Sjafrie Syamsuddin. “Let me emphasize one more time that this draft law is well grounded on the principles of legal supremacy, civilian supremacy and human rights,” Sjafrie said after meeting with legislators last week.

The National Security Law will become the umbrella for at least 13 laws, including the Intelligence Law and Social Conflict Management Law.

“We have never had something like this before, but now we need it because it will provide security for civil society. No other law has dealt with the safety of civil society,” he explained.

“The National Security Law is not going to be an execution type of law but a strategic direction law that provides direction for the national system.”

He said that resistance against the draft law was so heated because “many people still use old references and perceptions” about national security in Indonesia’s new democratic setting.

But reservations remain. La Ode Ida, the deputy chairman of the House of Regional Representatives (DPD) said the new law would return some of the duties assigned to the National Police back to the TNI.

“The government must make sure that none of the provisions in the new legislation will go against the 1945 Constitution,” La Ode cautioned.