Indonesia has undergone a gradual transformation from a military dictatorship to a democracy. However, a series of backsliding steps by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) have raised serious concerns among academics and human rights activists.
The military, with former commanders playing prominent and growing roles in politics, continues to wield considerable political clout. This illiberal influence is increasingly blurring the civil-military divide. In this context, it will be difficult for Indonesia to achieve a true civilian-military balance, and the country will struggle to build democratic institutions such as free and active media, independent courts, and fair elections.
Despite the backsliding, Indonesia has made significant progress since its transition to democracy in 1999. For example, it has achieved widespread economic prosperity and a relatively high standard of living for its vast population. Moreover, the government has managed to negotiate peace agreements with various separatist groups in Aceh and Papua Provinces.
As a result of these developments, the country has a vibrant economy and is expected to continue expanding in the coming years. It is a member of the Group of 20 nations and one of the most important economies in Asia.
A strong civilian bureaucracy, free and active press, and independent courts are vital to Indonesia’s progress toward a more diversified society. These institutions must be strengthened, especially with a focus on strengthening the rule of law, democratizing the justice system and improving transparency.
In order to ensure that the public has a genuine say in how the country is run, democratic governments must also encourage the public to exercise their right to freedom of speech and assembly. This is particularly true in the context of civil society organizations.
It is therefore crucial to make these institutions more accessible and open, so that Indonesians can be a more informed and engaged citizenry. This is the case both for the government and other societal actors, such as businesses, universities and the media.
The government also needs to be more accountable for its actions and conduct. This is why it is essential to have strong and transparent policymaking processes that involve the public.
Moreover, the government must be able to respond quickly to public criticism and address problems with integrity and legitimacy. This is especially important in light of recent controversies over the Omnibus bill on job creation and the disbandment of the Islamic Defenders Front.
Representation and accountability are dual requisites for any democracy, but Indonesia has found it difficult to create an effective check on corrupt officials. In September 2019, parliament passed a bill to gut the nation’s highly regarded anti-graft agency, the Anti-Corruption Agency (Bawaslu). This move could weaken another source of democratic accountability in the form of parliamentary oversight.
Ethnic diversity is also a critical factor in the success of Indonesia’s democratic process. The nation is a diverse mosaic of ethnic and religious groups, with many different languages and dialects. The result is a wide variety of political parties with ideologically diverse support.