How true are negative perceptions of relations among security and law enforcement institutions in Indonesia? This Contemporary Southeast Asia article outlines relations between the three primary law enforcement and security actors in three district case studies in Yogyakarta. It finds that coordination and an effective division of labour does exist among government security agencies. Negative perceptions stem in part from studies of the security forces in Indonesia’s conflict, as opposed to stable, areas.
The dominant perceptions of the academic literature on relations among security and law enforcement institutions in Indonesia tend to be negative. Research on conflict zones often suggests that unclear boundaries of jurisdiction and poor internal command and control frustrated the efforts to coordinate security forces in such areas. While these conclusions may be accurate in places that are or were riven by high conflict, this article questions if such conclusions are accurate for the large parts of Indonesia that have only experienced low levels of security problems.
The evidence from the three case studies in Yogyakarta provides a different view of relations among public security actors than the dominant picture. There is an effective level of cooperation and inter-institutional dialogue based on a division of labour among the actors:
- Despite the absence of clarity in national legislation, the police and the military share a normative understanding over how they divide their roles in internal security and how to achieve operational cooperation. The police are the lead agency in maintaining order under normal conditions and the military back-up the police.
- One of the most important tools for creating inter-agency cooperation is joint committees. The Muspida, for example, consists of the most important regional executive leaders and is designed to encourage these parties to synchronise efforts between local government and the national security apparatuses.
- While Yogyakarta is a relatively stable area, security actors in the districts do deploy in infrequent joint operations which often involve the provision of security for public events. An important example of this includes national and local elections.
- The provision of financial support between institutions is a final example of security cooperation. The armed services in Indonesia have historically taken advantage of financial grants from regional governments to supplement their meagre budgets.
In explaining the disjuncture between these findings and common perceptions we need to recall that the most reliable evidence – that shows poor relations between security elements in former conflict areas – comes from the turbulent years immediately after 1998.
- At that time, the forces were negotiating the early days of security sector reform and there were weaknesses of capacity as well as an unclear statutory environment. We need to note that as Indonesia has recovered from the crisis of its early transition years, so too has its security apparatuses.
- Generally, most of Indonesia reflects the situation in Yogyakarta – stable, secure and experiencing only periodic disturbances of order.
- We should question whether extraordinary case studies from conflict zones constitute a good basis for developing our understanding of security force relations in contemporary Indonesia.