Is Indonesia stronger than Philippines?

In the aftermath of the largely unexpected coup in Thailand in 2006, one question begs to be answered: will other Southeast Asian countries experience similar coups? This paper, pu

Is Indonesia stronger than Philippines?

In the aftermath of the largely unexpected coup in Thailand in 2006, one question begs to be answered: will other Southeast Asian countries experience similar coups? This paper, published by Armed Forces and Society, investigates whether Indonesia and the Philippines may prove equally susceptible to military intervention in politics. Southeast Asian militaries are generally the most powerful domestic institutions; civilian governments need to find ways to manage the military until its intervention in civilian politics becomes a moot point.

Southeast Asian countries generally exhibit powerful militaries and civilian administrations that rely on little more than moral appeals to legitimacy. Authoritarianism and military interventionism have been historically prominent features in the region. The military has historically played a pivotal role in achieving independence; civil administrations have frequently lacked adequate state capacity to deal with post-independence development challenges.

Observers posit that the militarys once-central role in Thailand and the Philippines has declined significantly, while Indonesias transition to civilian rule has barely begun. Genuine democracy seems much more likely in Thailand and the Philippines than in Indonesia, where the military is embedded in the countrys political and economic sectors.

However, the following country-specific factors indicate that Indonesias civil-military relations are surprisingly stable, while the Philippines civilian authority seems fragile and susceptible to military intervention:

  • In Indonesia, the army played a central role in winning independence, which entrenched the militarys centrality and authority. Suhartos New Order allowed the military to be directly involved in business.
  • Under Suharto, the military was also given corporate representation in government and state-owned corporations. Each military branch has its own foundation, which operate businesses in the financial sector, travel industry, manufacturing and resource extraction. These foundations fund, in part, the under-funded military.
  • Given this entrenchment in political, governmental and business sectors, the Indonesian military does not need to intervene in civilian politics.
  • America as colonist decentralised Philippine power relations and rejected the strong state model; the result was a weak central administration which continues to affect economic development negatively.Despite semblance of civilian rule, the military continues to be a threat to civilian authorities.
  • Philippine military economic involvement is more opportunistic, less regularised and a source of continuing conflict within the military itself.
  • Many military think they have a right to intervene in domestic politics; the government, compromised and incapable of acting independently, has limited capacity to stop them.

While Indonesia and the Philippines share broadly similar historical legacies, they have displayed significantly different responses to their political and military legacies:

  • Militaries in both countries feel they have pivotal, legitimate roles to play outside their formal areas of responsibility.
  • However, Indonesias military appears to have found more effective ways to realise their extracurricular aims.
  • Economic factors have been a major influence on military behaviour in both cases; both countries find it impossible to finance their militaries adequately.
  • However, in the Philippines, this issue has been a source of continuing discontent. In Indonesia, regularised economic activities  even illegitimate ones  have kept the military occupied and more content.

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