Indonesians are divided on how to define and understand democracy. Most Indonesians are satisfied with the political order that they have in place. However, there is a large degree of disagreement over the definition of “democracy.” Some groups argue that Islam should play a stronger role in state organization, while others say that the nation-state is at odds with notions of Islamic supremacy. While most Indonesians support the democratic process, many societal interest groups are advocating a more anti-democratic agenda. In addition, corruption remains widespread.
Indonesia’s democracy has seen significant deterioration during the past decades. This is largely due to the rise of a number of anti-democratic actors. These groups have co-opted influential figures to establish themselves and pursue their anti-democratic agenda. The government has tried to suppress these actors, but the situation has continued to deteriorate.
One of the biggest challenges for the Indonesian polity is the lack of a coherent national government and policy coordination. Various ministries and local governments have different levels of autonomy and effectiveness. Moreover, the lack of horizontal accountability means that most people are not held accountable for their actions. Thus, the Indonesian polity is often unstable and prone to polarization.
Despite this, the level of violence between sociopolitical groups has decreased since the review period. The most important sociopolitical cleavage is between those who seek greater emphasis on the role of Islam in state organization and those who oppose this change. A recent survey found that an additional proportion of respondents wanted Islam to play a stronger role in state organization. Nonetheless, the government has consistently undermined the Islamist interpretation of democracy. Nevertheless, a ban on the Islamic Defenders Front was put into place in the 2020 elections.
Since the fall of Suharto, Indonesia has undergone a period of transition. This period is commonly referred to as the “New Order” era. During the transition, the government sought to maintain political order while emancipating itself from excessively strong presidential power. As a result, the military and bureaucracy were supportive of the regime. Eventually, the armed forces deserted the president. This led to cracks in the regime, which emboldened street protests. Western capitals began to reconsider their support for the former dictator.
Despite the transition, Indonesia still had class divisions. Although these were not expressed in the political sphere, the country’s economy deteriorated. There are significant differences between the economic status of urban and rural Indonesians. Urban Indonesians tend to have better employment opportunities, while the rural population is deprived of access to jobs. Consequently, a high percentage of the country’s poor remain in rural areas.
After the fall of Suharto, two populist challengers competed for succession. Both promised substantial political reforms. Eventually, President B.J. Habibie’s administration exceeded the expectations of the opposition. But the reforms failed to make Indonesia more democratic. During the ensuing years, anti-democratic actors have consolidated their positions and continue to influence politics.
The post-Suharto era has also seen a decentralization of political institutions. Some local democratic institutions, such as the parliament and the regional representative council, have been emancipated from too strong a presidency. Still, some have been handicapped by corruption and incapacity. Also, the legislature has weakened its ability to scrutinize the executive branch.