Democracy in Indonesia

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the role of civil society will remain important in Indonesia’s democracy. Although the last election was criticized by NGOs, it is the election that will serve as the ultimate check on the government. Meanwhile, large businesses and the extractive industries remain a major spoiler of good governance. In addition to NGOs, small and medium businesses also serve as accountability checks. The government will likely retain the support of its bureaucracy, party elites and military ties.

Although Indonesians have embraced democracy in its entirety, the political landscape is often not free of polarization. The current government has attempted to moderate polarization by adopting an elite-level compromise that involves the distribution of government patronage resources. A recent example of this compromise is the rapprochement between President Jokowi and former vice president Prabowo. Nonetheless, it has done little to smooth the divisions between the Islamist and pluralist camps.

The New Order’s success in the 1965 coup attempt was partly due to the popular support it garnered. The New Order sought to remove Indonesia from its problems since independence, bringing in a new generation of intellectuals and leaders. The ‘generation of 66’ tended to be pro-Western, but the New Order sought to keep economic growth and political order by suppressing mass participation. The result was a turbulent period in Indonesia’s political history.

The Islamic-pluralist divide is deeply entrenched in Indonesia’s political life. The two groups mobilized on opposing sides even before the country gained independence. While proponents of political Islam advocate for a more expansive role for Islam, pluralists are largely in favor of a secular state with laws protecting religious minorities. Although the constitution does not mention Islam explicitly, it does outline the belief in a single god among the five founding principles.

The country’s judiciary is also a cause for concern. The Constitutional Court, which has the power to review existing laws, is a judicial body with nine members, while the Supreme Court, which has the power to interpret laws, is appointed by parliament and has jurisdiction over every court. Both courts have significant autonomy, and some have been plagued by corruption. There are several notable examples of this in Indonesia.

This book is a compilation of papers presented at the 2019 Indonesia Update conference. It is not a comprehensive study of Indonesia’s current democratic state, but it offers a rich and critical analysis of Indonesia’s contemporary political environment. Contributors discuss the causes of Indonesia’s democratic regression, including arbitrary crackdowns on freedom of speech, the rise of vigilantism, and the collapse of key democratic institutions. However, it also lays out a path forward for future studies on the Indonesian political system.