Indonesia is one of the most populous countries in Asia and the world’s third-largest democracy. The country has made impressive strides in democratizing since the end of the New Order dictatorship in 1998, but it remains plagued by political and economic corruption.
Despite its shortcomings, however, the Indonesian democratic process has produced an impressive list of achievements that have greatly improved the lives of many Indonesians. The nation’s emergence from a repressive regime has also helped incubate a young, diverse and courageous cadre of non-governmental organizations dedicated to protecting human rights, defending the environment and fighting corruption.
In the aftermath of a military coup in 1965, President Sukarno instituted a sweeping series of reforms that were intended to foster social and economic development, but the new regime soon slipped into authoritarianism. This process was accelerated by the subsequent economic crisis and the rise of communism, which led to a period of instability. The government’s commitment to a “New Order” and the strong support of its largely rural, middle-class base facilitated the transition to democracy in this predominantly Muslim country, but it was a process that would not be without challenges.
The emergence of a vibrant print and television media has provided an important stabilizing force for the democratic process, but many journalists and publishers face threats from security forces and other elements of the entrenched elite. In addition, many governments have enacted laws that have made it difficult for independent journalists and NGOs to report on corruption and other abuses.
A recent study by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) found that the Indonesian security forces have been responsible for widespread extra-judicial killings, torture and ill treatment. These crimes, which were characterized by a lack of transparency and accountability, have fueled resentment among the majority of the population against the government’s policies and actions.
Violence against civilians and the police is a common problem in Indonesia, especially in Aceh province. This is often a result of local police repression of religious and ethnic minorities. In addition, local authorities have been known to arrest activists, including those working for human rights and the environment.
Women and LGBT+ people are also underrepresented in Indonesia’s public service. A 2013 report by the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies found that women and LGBT+ people are only five percent of elected officials, while they make up 25 percent of Indonesia’s total workforce. This disproportionately low representation is partly due to the country’s centralized political system and its lack of separation of powers, but it also highlights the need for more women and LGBT+ candidates in elections.
The Constitution has provided a limited separation of powers, but the government frequently uses its legislative and executive power to undermine civil liberties and protect corporate interests. A 2013 report by IRIN found that the government has passed numerous laws that restrict citizens’ freedoms and rights.
Several of these laws were criticized by NGOs. For example, the Law on Abortion prohibits abortion unless it can save a woman’s life or is necessary to stop her from being raped. A law that prevents the sale of condoms to young girls has been criticized by NGOs as failing to protect the rights of sexually active children.