Indonesian Democracy

Democracies can be a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately for Indonesia, Suharto had many of these traits, and he was overthrown in 1998, after a 32-year rule. But his reign was not without some ups and downs. Sukarno, who was the first President of Indonesia, governed with a combination of patronage, performance legitimacy, and repression. In addition, Indonesia was hit by the Asian Financial Crisis, which destroyed the economy and weakened his government.

Political parties have flourished in Indonesia, although the political landscape is still fragmented. There are many Islamic parties, each with different ideological stances, and no single party controls the country. However, the New Order’s basic national consensus has prevented sharp divisions over fundamental issues. The state ideology, or Pancasila, prevents fundamental issues from polarizing Indonesia’s highly heterogeneous population. Despite the political landscape, Islam is now an official religion, and Islamic parties have become a viable political platform.

In the 20 years since Suharto’s fall, Indonesians have chosen a new national leader four times. Until this point, elections have been free of violence and irregularities, and have been in line with the Constitution. Only one exception shows how strong support for civilian rule is among Indonesians. In April 2014, 40,000 troops marched into the capital with guns pointed at the presidential palace. After a week of protests, parliament voted to remove Wahid from office and install Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Although a majority of Indonesians viewed democracy as a desirable goal, there are many people who believe it does not work. While a majority of Indonesians favor democracy, they are not unanimous about its definition. Some Indonesians define democracy as the state’s welfare provision. However, the high levels of support for democracy seem to contradict the strong support for nondemocratic stances. For instance, 52% of Muslims said they would object to a non-Muslim becoming governor. Therefore, Indonesian democracy should be considered in the context of growing popular support for political Islamization.

Despite the fact that Indonesia has a functioning democratic system, corruption still persists. Although some officeholders are prosecuted, the vast majority are for corruption. Among the cases handled by the Anti-Corruption Commission, 257 parliamentarians, 21 governors, 119 regents, and 225 high-ranking bureaucrats were convicted of corruption. However, the commissions still receive few cases because their budgets are small. Furthermore, the government does not adequately protect minorities.

Indonesians face many challenges. In some areas, social mobility has been limited. Laws requiring social mobility have been lax and have been exploited politically. As a result, many citizens in Indonesia remain in poverty, despite their privileged status. Furthermore, agrarian conflict continues to exist, with the government refusing to acknowledge mistakes. While property rights remain secure, Indonesian government has failed to address long-standing problems in property registration.

Indonesia’s democratic institutions were under attack, and President Jokowi pursued a two-track strategy against the Islamist movement. In one strategy, he integrated centrist Islamist figures into the government and repressed the more radical Islamists. Another strategy, banned a major Islamist organization and imprisoned its charismatic patron. Both strategies undermined the system’s liberal values. In addition, the government has been increasingly hostile to the opposition, and a ban on assembly will be effective in removing its most vocal supporters.