Although Indonesia has been challenged with conflict and violence among races, groups, and religions for the past year, the process of democratic consolidation is, in general, maturing. While some democratic institutions are lagging a bit in this maturation process, others are showing marked improvement.
One of these success stories is the Indonesian National Police, whose passage from adolescence to young adulthood can be attributed to President Jokowi’s bold choice of Tito Karnavian as its chief.
Tito’s leadership has not only already transformed the National Police culture in a positive way, but will also lead to significant changes in the balance of power among the government elite in 2019.
When President Jokowi appointed Tito to his new post, Tito “jumped about 6 steps,” meaning he was promoted way ahead of officers senior to him.
The Indonesian National Police has more than 400,000 personnel, and is considered as one of the most powerful police forces in the world. Many observers and experts believe Jokowi made the right decision in appointing Tito, especially as it related to maintaining the legitimacy of his presidency, which is facing pressure from both goverment elites and the political opposition.
What sets Tito apart from his fellow high-ranking officers is his exceptional intellectual ability. Tito holds a Magna Cum Laude Ph.D from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, where he specialized in terrorism studies. Tito’s RSIS doctoral thesis focused on his role in the Poso Operation, the region with the highest levels of conflict involving terrorism, ethnicity, and religion.
After graduating at the top of his police academy class, Tito developed his career as a “doer”. He led the Anti-Terror Densus 88 unit and was a police chief in a conflict region and the capital city, Jakarta.
With a record such as this, it is no exaggeration to say that General Tito Karnavian is the most competent high-ranking counter-terrorism police official in the last decade.
Prioritizing Trust for Police
The highest priority for the National Police is internal reform and the transformation from a slow-paced and corrupt entity into a professional law enforcement agency. In that context, Tito Karnavian is carrying his vision to build trust for the police by working together with media and intellectual elites to open dialogue on issues such as street-crime and white-collar crime, as well as geopolitical, food security, and national security issues.
As part of this effort, Tito has traveled to numerous university campuses, where he has exchanged ideas with pro-democracy activists about the future of national politics, economy, security, and the law.
Tito has faced criticism from some, who oppose his “outside-the-box” strategy to solving the nation’s issues. But he has just as many supporters who believe his initiatives could save the country.
One of Tito’s dominant themes is his prediction of rise of China and Indonesia’s strategic opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region. However, prior to achieving this opportunity, Tito counsels that many national prerequisites must be accomplished first, such as achieving a rule-of-law-based democracy and the ability to deal with threat of radicalism and the destruction of national integrity.
If Tito’s leadership is as successful as it appears it will be, this will not only be a success story for Indonesia’s National Police but also for Tito’s future career. If he continues on his current trajectory, Tito could be well positioned for a senior political leadership position in the 2019 Presidential Election.
The road to a presidential candidacy will not be smooth, but if Tito’s adept handling of critical national security issues and the transformation of an entrenched police culture is any indication then we can surely envision him as either a presidential or vice-presidential candidate in 2019.
In summary, Tito Karnavian has proven himself to be not only integral to Jokowi’s presidency, but as someone whom Jokowi could embrace as a core power elite in his 2019 political agenda.
During one of his many visits to the country’s universities, Tito told the students, “Indonesia is not in an isolated vacuum space, it’s a part of the world system that interacts with each other.”
This kind of visonary thought is exactly what Indonesia needs for the future.
By : Sidratahta Mukhtar
Lecturer of Political Science, Indonesian Christian University (UKI), Author of books about police, democracy, and terrorism, Alumnus of Asia Pacific Center For Security Studies (APCSS), Hawaii USA (2008).