The Indonesian military has long dominated the country’s political life, but since reformers seized power in 1998 democracy has gained ground. Today, Indonesia has a presidential system with a limited separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers. It also has a multiparty system, and the constitution establishes a number of checks and balances. It is often viewed as a “presidential republic with parliamentary characteristics.”
A minimalist view of democracy classifies regimes solely on the basis of their institutions and procedures—in particular, free and fair elections. A maximalist view, however, contends that to qualify as a democracy, a state must guarantee other social and political rights—often found in consolidated democracies, such as human rights protections, civil liberties, egalitarianism, and the rule of law.
The evolution of Indonesia’s democracy has been complicated by the country’s turbulent history. In the early years of “Guided Democracy,” Sukarno sought to build political institutions that would bolster representation and resolve conflicts over regionalism, class, and religion that had plagued the national parliament during the Liberal Democracy era. In the latter half of the period, power shifted increasingly to the presidency, as Sukarno moved toward an authoritarian model.
While Indonesia’s democracy has made some strides in recent years, it remains a flawed one. Its ranking in the Economist Group’s Democracy Index has slipped from 48th in 2017 to 68th in 2018. Moreover, Indonesia is the slowest-growing democracy among the 165 countries surveyed by the Index.
As a result, many Indonesians do not define democracy in liberal terms. In fact, most people report greater satisfaction with their government’s performance when asked about their overall quality of life than when prompted about the nature of their democracy.
Although Indonesia has a robust private sector, foreign investment and economic growth have been hindered by corruption, a lack of infrastructure, and restrictions on labor mobility. The country also has significant economic disparities. Women’s equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation are limited, while some communities suffer from the denial of their right to property.
In addition, the Indonesian constitution and laws have left many societal groups with insufficient access to public services. In addition, citizens face restrictions on religious freedom and the ability to join certain professional societies, while journalists report censorship, intimidation, and physical attacks.
Despite these challenges, the Indonesian people are resilient and have shown their ability to sustain democracy. Nevertheless, the country needs to strengthen its democratic institutions—particularly a strong civilian bureaucracy, a vibrant free press, and independent courts—to roll back some of the illiberal trends that have been evident in the past year. Without such reforms, the future of democracy in indonesia is uncertain. Unless these trends are reversed, Indonesia will lose its global reputation as a model of successful democracy.