Democracy in Indonesia

A quarter of a century ago, during the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia’s economy nearly collapsed. The rupiah plunged, tycoons were losing their fortunes, and protesters filled the streets in cities across the archipelago, demanding reforms. It was a dark moment for Indonesia, and the country’s future hung in the balance.

But a few years later, the rupiah recovered, economic growth returned, and Jakarta’s authoritarian legacies were largely eliminated. Today, Indonesia is one of the fastest-growing emerging economies and its democracy appears to be thriving. The routinization of politics has made it easier for citizens to hold their elected leaders accountable, and the introduction of direct regional elections mitigated the dominance of old elites in local governments.

Nevertheless, political competition remains fierce and the state still interferes with some freedoms. For example, the police regularly arrest and detain people without charge and are known to extort money, seize property, and use excessive force, including against minors. And while Indonesia’s judiciary is largely independent, judicial decisions can be influenced by religious considerations.

Indonesia’s electoral laws and procedures are generally seen as democratic, though election management bodies can be partisan. The 2019 elections saw the return of several large parties, including two with links to former President Suharto and a new party led by a controversial Islamic figure. New parties face a difficult challenge to gain recognition and must prove their eligibility in a process that can be politically and financially costly.

The country’s constitution and laws protect fundamental rights, but corruption in government is widespread, and respect for personal freedoms is eroded by sectarian rhetoric and violent acts by militant Islamist groups. The presence of these groups, some with close ties to the military, has stoked religious extremism and undercut the government’s commitment to secularism.

While the country’s democracy continues to improve, our recent Global Satisfaction Survey (GSS) found that Indonesians are polarized in their satisfaction with their government and a significant minority say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. More than six-in-ten Indonesians have a favorable view of the incumbent, President Jokowi, and most have a positive view of the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). However, the same number have unfavorable views of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto, as well as of his Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).