Have you ever heard of democracy in Indonesia? You might have if you are an Indonesian. Indonesia is a multicultural country, a nation made up of diverse ethnic groups. A former colony of the British, it gained independence in 1957. Nowadays, Indonesia practices a form of cautious development, guided by religion, society, ethnicity, language, and culture.
Unfortunately, not all of us can visit this beautiful country soon enough. Until then, we can follow the political parties that make up the government, which are presently making efforts to move toward democracy in Indonesia. The main political parties are currently fighting over who will get enough support to form the next legislative assembly. Candidates for the presidential election are not popularly elected yet, but the battle for the coming months could be exciting.
The problem with democracy in Indonesia has been that it didn’t take long for people to remember that they aren’t really free. For too long, people in Indonesia have allowed the military to rule them, with the military junta chief and the politicians that served him taking turns in power. Many foreigners visiting Indonesia during the late 1990s remember hearing about political prisoners being tortured and killed in the streets, seemingly uneventfully. Political parties deny that such abuses happen. But independent organizations that monitor human rights say that they occur regularly.
The road toward democracy in Indonesia is long and difficult. Some analysts say that the long-term goal of democracy in indonesia is unattainable because there are too many vested interests who want to maintain their power. The recent elections, however, indicate that some citizens are finally pushing for greater democracy and an end to the military’s rule.
In Indonesia, as elsewhere around the world, a transition to democracy requires a new constitutional framework and a change in societal expectations. The current constitution approved by a referendum was put into place by a military regime and included heavy penalties for those who vote against it. Major cities like Jakarta, in particular, remain tense between protesters and police. The future of democracy in indonesia is therefore guarded, but not by any means impossible.
If the Indonesian democratic transition becomes a failure, then perhaps the fate of the world’s youngest democracy is at stake. Indonesia is an important country which is an economic and cultural hub in South-East Asia. A military takeover in 1997 prevented multiparty elections and ushered in a military dictatorship which ruled for thirty-two years. But since then the people have shown remarkable resistance to the military. It is possible that after the vice-president is chosen by the parliament, a peaceful transfer of power will occur. This can be the beginning of a new era in Indonesian politics.