Democracy in Indonesia

Since the fall of General Suharto in 1998, a series of reforms have transformed the world’s third largest democracy—and its largest Muslim democracy—into a mid-performing democracy that is a major oil producer and regional powerhouse. While Indonesia’s economic performance has improved, it still ranks below average in many areas, including civil liberties and judicial independence. Indonesia also faces serious challenges from a rising tide of Islamic populism that is infecting public discourse and political competition.

Does the population have full and unfettered freedom to organize in different competitive political parties or other groupings, and is the system free of undue obstacles that impede their formation? Indonesia’s governing system is characterized by pluralism, as nine parliamentary parties compete in presidential and legislative elections. But the country’s constitution limits a president to two consecutive terms, ensuring a peaceful transfer of power.

The country’s system of government is also democratic in that citizens elect their local executives—provincial governors, district heads, and mayors—via direct balloting. But a legacy of old elites in regional legislatures and collusive horse-trading between parties mean that policy preferences do not always carry weight. Furthermore, a significant degree of economic and judicial corruption inflicts a heavy burden on citizens.

In the 2014 election, the eventual winner, Joko Widodi (better known as Jokowi), ran with a broad coalition of pluralist parties. His rival, Prabowo Subianto, saw this as a weakness and forged alliances with conservative Islamist parties and Islamist individuals that could tap into religious tensions bubbling up from society. Prabowo and his allies portrayed Jokowi as too secular to govern a Muslim-majority nation. This effort was bolstered by an extensive online smear campaign against Jokowi and his family.

While some scholars believe that the mere existence of free and fair elections is sufficient for a regime to be considered a democracy, others take a maximalist approach and argue that true democracies not only guarantee electoral freedom but must also provide guarantees related to other core components of democracy, such as human rights protections, civil liberties, social group equality, and the rule of law. This volume seeks to identify, explain, and debate the signs of a democratic decline in indonesia that include the rise of vigilantism, resurgent state crackdowns on free speech and organization, a deepening of political polarization, and an erosion of checks and balances on executive power. These signs, the contributors to this volume argue, are part of a global pattern of democracy in retreat. The book’s contributors offer a range of explanations for this phenomenon, and discuss ways in which Indonesia can move forward to become a truly democratic country.