Martial Law? We, Er, Really Didn't Mean It

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Call it a tactical retreat. Indonesia’s government on Friday rescinded a controversial new law granting the army sweeping powers, only one day after approving the legislation that had been sponsored by the military. Three people were killed and scores injured in two days of protest against the bill that began Thursday, and a military spokesman said Friday the law had been withdrawn because "half the people do not understand its contents." The climb-down is a second humiliation for the Indonesian military only five days after it was forced to accept foreign peacekeepers' taking control of its old stamping grounds in East Timor.

The Prevention of Danger law was rescinded because military leaders likely realized that wielding the big stick could provoke rather than prevent danger in the diverse and often fractious 13,000-island archipelago. "Secessionist rumblings are stretching the army pretty thin, and they may have come to the view that claiming martial law powers at this point was a mistake," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "Cracking down too hard right now may actually trigger more secessionist activity, and the Indonesian military has a very sophisticated approach to dealing with these things. It’s also not a monolith — it's generals who come together in competing coalitions. If there is a backlash against the recent humiliations suffered by the military, it may come in the form of a barely perceptible internal reorganization rather than an overt crackdown on the streets." With the country due to seat its new parliament next week and begin the process of choosing a new president, Indonesia’s short-term political future remains volatile and unpredictable. But the military will do its best to ensure that the furious jockeying for power is settled by backroom cabals rather than on the streets.

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