Mohammad Mahfud Md., Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs: Separatism Is Worse Than Radicalism
LAST Wednesday, October 23, was a long day for Mohammad Mahfud Md. He was at the Presidential Palace bright and early to be sworn in as the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
AFTER the ceremony, with his wife, Zaizatun Nihajati, Mahfud went to his new office in Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat in Central Jakarta for the handover of duties from his predecessor, Wiranto. Mahfud was astonished to see Wiranto at the ceremony as the latter was still being treated for his stab wounds from the incident in Pandeglang, Banten on October 10. “I was really touched that I could do the handover directly with Pak Wiranto,” Mahfud said.
In the afternoon, the minister of defense and later the minister of laws and legislation during the Abdurrahman Wahid administration, held a family event at his South Jakarta residence. After the sun went down, he headed back to the office for a series of meetings including one with Comsr. Gen. Idham Azis, the newly-minted National Police chief. Mahfud, 62, finally wrapped up his agenda with a special interview with Tempo’s Maulana, Wayan Agus, Devy Ernis and Aisha Shaidra that proceeded till 10:30pm.
The Constitutional Court’s chief justice for the period 2008-2013 explained various matters, from his duties mandated by the president, the civilian leadership over the military to change of his position at the last minute. “Actually, I was projected to become attorney-general. I’ve even had a concept already for corruption eradication programs if the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) becomes weak,” he said.
Mahfud, who was Prabowo Subianto’s campaign team leader in the 2014 presidential race, also shed light on his relation with Prabowo, who is now the new defense minister. “He looks calmer now.”
How was the process of your appointment as the new coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs?
Actually, I was projected to become attorney-general. On Sunday, October 20, at around 1pm, Pak Pratikno (the state secretariat minister) contacted me asking me to be available on Monday and Tuesday because the president would summon me to lead M1-a moniker for attorney general because the office is located in Block M, South Jakarta. But as soon as the President concluded his inauguration speech at the People’s Consultative Assembly (on Sunday, October 20), Pak Pratikno called again and said that there had been an adjustment and that I would be asked to head the ministry of political, legal and security affairs (Kemenkopolhukam).
What was your reaction?
I was perplexed. I’ve already thought of a concept to balance corruption eradication efforts. If the KPK becomes weak, the Attorney-General’s Office (AGO) has to be strong. That will be the direction of my work. But, okay, the President has other considerations and I was asked to go further. Well, that’s how I ended up as the coordinating minister.
What is the President’s rationale for the change?
He knows my track record. For political experience, I’ve been in the House of Representatives (DPR) and a political party. As the former ministry of defense and the ministry of justice, I have experience in the government. Pak Jokowi said that I would be the Menkopolhukam but I should not tell the press waiting at the palace because he would announce it. That’s why I was evasive about my position until the inauguration.
Do you prefer to be the attorney-general or the Menkopolhukam?
It’s all the same for me.
What was the President’s message upon your appointment?
To handle legal issues, radicalism, human rights protection, deradicalization, separatism, and so on which are indeed part of the Menkopolhukam’s job.
What are the priority tasks?
None. Only to continue (the current programs). I have materials from Pak Wiranto which are quite good.
What kind of homework did Wiranto pass on to you?
A lot. Books this many (using hands to describe the stack of books). As Pak Jokowi said, human rights is now a problem. I will explain to the public about the problems and our work program.
How serious is the President’s attention towards deradicalization?
He said radicalism threatens ideology. Radicalism in question is the one that threatens the national unity and ideology. What is the proof? The divisions among the public, cyber wars that always attack the government and promote alternative ideologies. The President understands this very well, and therefore we have to handle it seriously. The tasks are distributed among many ministries. Those relating to defending the ideology are under the realm of the defense ministry whereas disseminating religious awareness falls under the charge of the religious affairs ministry. I can go in anywhere.
What is the government’s definition of radicalism?
When I met the President last Monday, we didn’t have the chance to discuss it in depth as the meeting was brief. The definition of radicalism is highly academic. There are 11 characteristics that I could not possibly discuss at the time. So, the discussion was general. Based on the root word, radicalism is a movement aimed to fundamentally change a given ideology via informal procedures. The system in place is considered rotten and it therefore must be changed. People of different opinions are considered enemies.
Is it true that the appointment of Tito Karnavian (the National Police chief for 2016-2019) as the home affairs minister was related to the spread of radicalism within the civil service?
Yes, but that is not part of the President’s directives. It’s a common knowledge that some percentage of civil servants as well as state-owned enterprises employees and 3 percent of the armed forces have been ‘infected’ by radicalism.
How is radicalism distinguished from religious zeal?
Don’t equate radicalism with Islamism. They are different. Radicalism is linked to Islam by those who want to change religious and ideological systems. For Islamism, the state ideology is still Pancasila (state ideology) and Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI). Islamism followers are non-radical Muslims who wish to have their own characteristics as Muslims. They are diligent in prayers and recitals, and so on.
Including sporting beards and ankle-length trousers?
The beard is a matter of individual taste. I don’t use beard—but behavior and view—to measure. I was once visited by people who wanted to change the state’s foundation. Not everyone wore beard or cropped pants, but they firmly said that our state system had failed, and therefore must be changed.
You talked about anti-corruption efforts if the KPK is weakened. Has the KPK been really weakened?
That is the job of the justice and human rights ministry. We’ll see where the new law is going. There are still many alternatives. The KPK is weakened according to the public who rejected the revised KPK law. Therefore, in my opinion, if the KPK is weakened, the AGO must be strong. It has larger instruments until the regional level. The budget is also bigger. It surely can. If the KPK is deemed as weakened, then let me be at the AGO. But, okay, I’m now at the Kemenkopolhukam. In fact, it’s even better. We can monitor together with the attorney-general.
Are you involved in the formulation of the draft government regulation in lieu of the KPK law (perpu)?
I didn’t talk about perpu. After the President’s meeting with national figures on September 26, I was asked to be a spokesperson even though I did not talk about perpu at the meeting. The speakers were Bivitri Susanti (a constitutional law lecturer with the Jentera Indonesian law school) and Feri Amsari (a constitutional law expert with the Andalas University). Therefore, I just offered a scientific framework. There are three options: revision via the legislative process, but it won’t be necessarily approved by the DPR; judicial review, but I think the Constitutional Court will reject it; and perpu. It’s up to the President to consider them.
Activists hope you would resolve human rights violation cases. Is it a realistic hope?
Pak Wiranto has documents on the actions taken, current statuses and what have or have not been completed, and so on. The cases are settled according to the laws. If we talk about human rights violations in the past, we have to see if they are still relevant. For example, the 1965 or the Tanjung Priok incidents, the people involved are gone.
Which is more dangerous: radicalism or separatism in Papua?
In my opinion, separatism is. Radicals are still open to debates or discussion. They are a bit forceful but there is no violence. Is there radicalism in Papua? I think if there is separatism, there is also radicalism. Separatist movements must be crushed whereas radical movements must be straightened out. Hence radicalization programs. You can hardly have discussions with separatists.
Does it mean the government will continue to use the security approach in Papua?
We can’t use one approach only. Security is still needed and if we abandon this approach, the situation will become more heated. But it should be a measured approach so that a cultural approach can also play an important role. The security approach should be applied in dealing with separatists only. If, for instance, people of a certain village cannot go home for fear of the authorities, then the latter is in violation of state officials’ duties. However, if someone shoots another in public just because the latter is a migrant, the shooter of course must be punished. We have a legal ground to do so. How come the state should be afraid?
How does the government respond to Papua’s demand for independence?
Indonesia is a sovereign nation and Papua is legally under the sovereignty of NKRI according to the international law and the state constitution. Unlike the East Timor which indeed was in the agenda of the United Nations’ Special Decolonization Commission (C-24). That’s why we had a referendum there. The C-24 has a list of countries that are eligible for independence and Papua isn’t one of them.
President Abdurrahman Wahid was said to be the most highly regarded president by Papuans. What was the key?
His approach was good. First, he invited them for discussion. “Let’s discuss, but don’t declare independence. Just discussion.” Then he used the name Papua in place of Irian Jaya as the people wished. He also allowed the use of their Morning Star flag but by placing below the Red and White flag, much like a football club flag in essence. Then, in early 2001, Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid’s nick name) went to Papua to see the first sunrise of the year given Papua’s easternmost position. Although he couldn’t really see, his symbolic gesture touched the people.
President Jokowi began the tour of his 2014 election campaign in Papua riding atop a motorcycle greeting people. Wasn’t it sufficient?
Pak Jokowi took a cultural approach but how about making it a national policy and not just a spontaneous action of the president during a visit? That’s what we need to develop. I just read a letter to Pak Wiranto that he hasn’t read. It proposed a social-cultural approach in Papua. We will follow up on it.
Mahfud Md. (center) being introduced by President Joko Widodo as Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs/TEMPO/Subekti.
Mohammad Mahfud Md.
Place and date of birth: Sampang, East Java, May 13, 1957 | Education: Religious Teachers’ Training, Pamekasan, East Java; State Islamic Judge Training, Yogyakarta; Bachelor in Constitutional Law, Islamic University of Indonesia, Yogyakarta; Bachelors of Arts in the Arabic Language, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta; Master in Political Science, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta; PhD in Constitutional Law, UGM, Yogyakarta; Professor of Constitutional Law, UII, Yogyakarta | Career: Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs (October 2019-now), Member of Advisory Board for Pancasila Promotion Working Group (2017-2019), Chairman, Constitutional Court (2008-2013), Member of House of Representatives from National Awakening Party (2004-2008), Minister of Laws and Legislation (2001), Minister of Defense (2000-2001)
You were so close to becoming Joko Widodo’s running mate in the 2019 election. Did you have reservations that you might be given false hope again?
No. This is clearly about politics. You cannot get mad in politics. My continued support for Pak Jokowi shows that I’m not angry. I don’t want positions. I work to serve the country, not to become the vice president.
What did President Jokowi say after his decision to not pick you as the vice-presidential candidate?
He said, “Pak Mahfud, this is really a political matter. The political parties didn’t support but this country still has a lot of work to do. Prof, we will work together for the country.” He expressed the same gesture during the constitutional law teachers’ national conference last September. “Pak Mahfud, we will be (on the same team) in October, okay?”
How do you prepare yourself as the first civil official to head this ministry?
It first hit me when I received the WhatsApp message from A.M. Hendropriyono the night before the President’s announcement. I do have the experience as the defense minister in the Abdurrahman Wahid cabinet. I was a bit nervous that time. The New Order was just ousted and my assumption was that the soldiers were harsh and the generals were rude. But when I replaced officers after explaining the reasons, they were respectful. They follow a strict discipline and hierarchy.
Do you know the person who was initially considered for the Menkopolhukam post?
I don’t know. I only heard rumors.
Is it true that your position is to bridge the President and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto?
That’s a rumor.
How do you picture yourself communicating with the defense minister who is under your coordination?
For example, the policies he is going to implement. If they are not appropriate, well, we just let him know. Nowadays, oversight is strict. The President also mentioned that the defense ministry received the biggest budget. It means the President also knows there are potentials for danger in case of mismanagement. Therefore, communication and coordination are key.
Do you still maintain relation with Prabowo since the 2014 presidential election?
No. After he lost and filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court, I left because I knew he would lose. After President Jokowi was officially elected, I said goodbye to Pak Prabowo. After that, we’ve never had any communication except greetings when we met in seminars or at airports.
How is your communication with him now?
Great. When I saw him earlier at the Palace, he said, “We will coordinate with each other, okay, pak? We are one family, one coordination for the sake of the country.” It means he is open to discussion. He held my shoulder and I held his. That’s the sporting spirit of the soldiers. We bow to the hierarchy.
Has he changed in the past five years?
He looks calmer now. He used to fly into a rage if there was something (that annoyed him). Now he’s more friendly and warm. We saw him angry only once during a campaign in Yogyakarta last April. He banged the table.