In Indonesia, the post-Suharto era has ushered in a new political environment. The country has developed into a regional leader in recent decades. However, many Indonesians remain concerned about the polarizing nature of the last few years. A new study offers a comprehensive look at the state of democracy in the world’s largest Muslim nation.
Indonesia’s government institutions face challenges in regulating corruption, protecting civil rights, and addressing the drivers of intolerance. At the same time, the country is grappling with a deepening rift between the country’s Islamist and pluralist communities. Yet the Jokowi administration has taken a two-track approach against the Islamist movement, repressing most radical Islamist leaders while seeking to integrate centrist Islamist figures into the government.
Indonesia’s formal party system is fairly stable. Despite this, a number of powerful groups have emerged outside the traditional party structure. Most contemporary parties have a diverse range of supporters. Some have been established by wealthy oligarchs, while others are anchored in specific religiopolitical constituencies. As a result, the nominal stability of Indonesia’s party system is not necessarily indicative of its political health.
During the Suharto era, Indonesia suffered from a mixture of repression and patronage. Despite the support of the military and the bureaucracy, the regime suffered from cracks, which emboldened street protests. Western capitals began reconsidering their support for the dictatorship. This led to the fall of the dictator in 1998 and the start of the post-Suharto era.
In the past decade, Indonesia has seen an increasing polarization between Islamist and pluralist forces. This has been facilitated by the Jokowi government’s crackdown on the opposition. But the crackdown has also entrenched divisions among the opposition forces and the country’s weak democratic institutions. Among the key indicators of regression are the erosion of checks on executive power, the proliferation of populist movements, and deepening political polarization.
Post-Suharto presidents have tried to neutralize the power of parliament and build oversized legislative coalitions. But these efforts have not been a success, as the legislature’s willingness to scrutinize the executive has decreased. Meanwhile, many of the country’s highest-ranking judges continue to be arrested for corruption. While the judiciary has shown signs of improvement, it is still a weak institution, and a growing number of judges are now serving long sentences for corruption.
Recent attempts by President Jokowi to build a more pluralistic political order have not been successful. The government’s crackdown on the opposition has left the country’s fragile democratic institutions in tatters. It has exacerbated the divide between Islamist and pluralist groups, and entrenched the divide between those who support the continuation of the status quo and those who seek to reshape the polity.
The Jokowi government has also failed to curb the rise of vigilantism and the expansion of social mobility restrictions in some parts of the country. These problems have undermined Indonesia’s ability to promote a liberal democratic order.
The government’s crackdown on the opposition is unprecedented in the country’s history as a democracy since 1998. It has deepened the divide between the Islamist and pluralist communities, and eroded the country’s fragile democratic institutions.