Friday, July 25, 2014

Indonesia Democracy
Iqra Anugrah

Photography by Gustavo Thomas

Indonesia's democracy development is good news. As the most populous Muslim nation where democracy and market economy rule, it has started to play a more active role in international politics. Recent achievements and challenges of Indonesia show how it should aim higher.
Ten years ago, Indonesia was near collapse. The Asian financial crisis hit the nation while at the same time it had to face political reformation after the authoritarian Suharto government. Ethno-religious sentiments and conflicts were widespread and riots were part of daily life. 2 However, things do move. A recent report on Indonesia showed that despite of many failures, Indonesia has been able to achieve many things with political and economic stability under the popular re-elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. 3 Various bombings in Indonesia, including the latest 2009 Jakarta bombing in the aftermath of the relatively peaceful election, do not undermine Indonesia’s performance, especially when Indonesian National Police succeeded in combating terrorism. 4 Economic sectors after global financial crisis also record impressive development. Indonesia is one of few countries in Asia that has positive economic growth even when Asian economies experienced negative growth. 5 These achievements have lifted the face of Indonesia’s diplomacy in international fora. Besides trying to take the lead in ASEAN, Indonesia also exhibits its ability in tackling climate change and global warming issues. 6 Indonesia has faced and is facing serious issues both socially and economically, but they have so far not prevented Indonesia’s journey to democracy.
What Indonesia has achieved in the last ten years
What makes Indonesia’s reform unique is the fact that Indonesia implemented both political and economic reform at the same time. While many similar cases in many countries seem to be failed, Indonesia has managed its commitment to reform with quite successful results. The most prominent case is the re-introduction of free and fair electoral politics. Since after 1998, Indonesia has conducted three elections: first multiparty election in 1999, presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004, where voters had opportunities to directly vote for the MPs for the first time and the last 2009 election, which was relatively peaceful and successful. 7 Indonesian presidential elections in 2009 also showed the peaceful and fascinating race among the three presidential candidates, the first candidate is the incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with his running mate, Indonesia’s central bank governor, Boediono, dubbed as SBY-Boediono, which supported by pro-growth centre-right coalition of SBY’s Democrat Party and several leading Islamic parties. The second candidate is the former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and her partner, a former high-ranking military general, Prabowo, referred colloquially as Mega-Pro. They have the support of the centre-left Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), the populist Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) and some other small parties. The last candidate is the incumbent vice president Jusuf Kalla with former general Wiranto as the candidate from Golkar Party and People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), using the nickname JK-Win.
The success of elections is just a glimpse of the advancement of civil and political rights in Indonesia. In the field of constitutional law, Indonesia has amended its constitution, as mandated in the agenda of political reformation, in order to fit into the spirit of democracy and human rights. 8 Freedom of speech, information and the press is the most striking example of this transformation. The numbers of newspapers, magazines, radio stations and other new media has been increasing since the fall of Suharto, and now people can talk and express their opinion freely in public spaces. 9 Another story is the rapid development and expansion of civil society. 10 The role of civil society and NGOs has been influential since the New Order era in democratizing Indonesia. 11 Nowadays, various NGOs with different focuses, ranging from faith-based social organizations to right-based pressure groups, have flourished and contributed to the advancement of democratization process in Indonesia.
Freer political and economic activities also transformed the social life of Indonesian society. The question of Chinese Indonesians and other minorities was one of the main concerns for the betterment of democracy and minority groups in multicultural Indonesia. Thus, anti-discrimination legislation was introduced in the line of this spirit. 12 Another valuable improvement is despite various Islamist sentiments from some hard-line Islamic groups, majority rules. A study conducted by Saiful Mujani, a noted political scientist in Indonesia shows that political reformation and democratization has increased as much as the level of religiosity of Indonesian Muslims.13 Problems of ethno-religious conflicts and separatist movements in some regions have mostly been solved. Peace agreements with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) included special autonomy and local political parties in Aceh province were some of the political breakthroughs in settling conflicts in Indonesia. 14
What Indonesia should work on in the near future?
Despite of its tremendous accomplishments, a fully-functioning democracy in Indonesia is still not there yet. In the case of the latest election for example, though it was largely free, fair and peaceful, the tension among the presidential candidates was inevitable. 15 Alleged frauds and manipulations, unhealthy competition and empty campaign are only some issues that have to be solved for the next election.
The old story of collusion, corruption and nepotism (KKN in Indonesian language) is also still popular. 16 The case of Bank Century is an example how state supervision is still weak in watching financial and banking activities. 17Bank Century, a private bank in Indonesia, is accused of misusing its customers' money. One of its owners got arrested by the police and sentenced to four years in prison. 18 What makes the whole issue became more complicated is the public perception that the root of all problems is the weak control from the government, especially the central bank. Hence, the government policy to bailout the bank was politically and legally problematic. This situation is worsened by the case of Azahari Azhar, the inactive chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), who has been arrested on suspicion of murder of Nasrudin Zulkarnaen, a prominent businessman. 19 This situation has become more complicated by Azhar’s testimony in which he mentioned that some KPK’s leaders also received bribes in the investigation of corruption in an integrated radio communications system project. 20 The testimony and several other cases finally led into the investigation of KPK’s leaders by the national police. 21 This is a huge irony because in the middle of building a solid foundation for the rule of law, clean government and meritocracy, many problems seem to thwart this effort.
Other two tasks of Indonesia are to tackle natural calamities and democratize the economy. Indonesia’s geographical area, which is archipelagic and located in the meeting point of two major tectonic plates, is the reason why Indonesians should learn to live with disasters.22 The latest earthquakes in major islands such as Java and Sumatera is the momentum for the government to prove its capacity in handling non-traditional security issues. 23 The story of post-crisis Indonesian economic development, although it performs quite well, should not neglect the fact that basic social service and provision such as healthcare, housing and education is inadequate and the widening gap between the poor and the rich has to be reduced. 24 Good investment climates, fair regulations and less corruption is some key points in enhancing the economy
The rise of growing religious fundamentalism and violence is also a big hurdle for the healthy development of democracy in Indonesia. Various Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as the international Hizbut Tahrir, the vigilante Islamic Defender Front (FPI) and Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia (MMI), which is used to be backed by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a prominent conservative Islamic cleric, are getting more popular. 25 Persecution and violence against minority in the name of religion and blasphemy are becoming trend. Ahmadiyya, an unorthodox Islamic group who has coexisted in Indonesia with other elements of Indonesia had to face numerous persecutions and violent attacks because its teachings are considered blasphemous and heretic. 26 This situation has led to a crisis when the tension between Islamic fundamentalist and conservative groups and the liberal and pluralist camp reached its peak in the so-called Monas (National Monument) Incident on July 1, 2008. 27The tragic fact is that the peaceful rally to campaign and reaffirm the importance of pluralism and tolerance, which was held on the same day of the birthday of Pancasila-Indonesia's national principles in nation building, was contaminated by violent actions. There is an important fact showed in the study of the famous Islamic scholar and activist, Luthfi Assyaukanie, which mentioned that there is a strong correlation between violent actions and fatwas (religious opinion by Muslim jurists) from religious clerics. 28 In his thesis, he found that the widespread violent actions find their justifications from these fatwas. The rise of religious bylaws imposed in several regions in Indonesia also undermines the protection of civil and political rights. 29 There have been some complaints because these sharia-based bylaws are considered to be discriminative, especially for women such as the introduction of rajam or adultery stoning in accordance to the strict sharia interpretation in Aceh province. 30When in this kind of situation the government is expected to adhere to the principle of rule of law and takes a clear stance, it seems that instead of imposing such policy the state prefer to 'play safe'.
Indonesia’s Democracy: Present and Future Trajectory
Indonesia is not a perfect democracy quite yet. The latest election result, which brought victory to the incumbent President Yudhoyono, should be taken as a golden opportunity to strengthen Indonesia's democracy. 31Indonesia has to learned from the past and reaffirm its national commitment. This effort requires participation and willingness from every elements of Indonesia as a nation. Threats to civil rights, corruption, natural disasters, expanding income disparity and religious fundamentalism are only some of the challenges of contemporary Indonesia.
In the field of international politics, Indonesia should concentrate not only in the regional arena of ASEAN, but also beyond that, something which is called “Post-ASEAN" Foreign Policy by the leading international relations scholar of Indonesia, Rizal Sukma. 32 Its membership in the G-20 means that Indonesia should have a say and contribute more in international affairs. 33 Indonesia’s soft power is expanding now, and through various channels such as cultural exchanges, diplomacy and economic activities, it has to work on its international image. 34 Indonesia's relationship with other countries is also relatively friendly. Though it often competes and has conflicts with its two nearest neighbors, Singapore and Malaysia, generally speaking it maintains good relationship with many countries. The visit of US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is a proof of how the Western world is now seeing Indonesia as a strategic partner and connecting bridge between the West and the rest of the world, particularly Asia and Middle East. 35
Indonesia's success in Southeast Asia as the only working democracy in the region is also good news. 36 As a nation with strategic interests and role in world affairs, it deserves a better image. The answer for this problem is very simple: the combination of liberal democracy, market economy and moderate Islam as the three key principles in building a democratic Indonesia. These three points are related to one another. In order to defend and preserve Indonesian multiculturalism, democracy is needed as an instrument to guarantee civil rights of its citizens. Nevertheless, the protection of civil and political rights will be impossible without the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights. Thus, market economy with social protection is needed in order to promote competitiveness and increase growth and prosperity of the nation. The last but not the least is the use of spiritual and cultural values as the moral basis for the system. A moderate and tolerant interpretation of Islam has long become the mainstream of Indonesia’s religious life, which is also the core element for social capital and democratic politics in Indonesia. Despite all the challenges that Indonesia faces, as long as it follows these principles, the Indonesian future will remain bright.

  1. Long, Simon. (2009, September 12-18). A golden chance: A special report on Indonesia. The Economist, pp. 1-18  
  2. Ibid.  
  3. Ibid.  
  4. “Indonesia Police: Terrorism mastermind killed in raid” USA Today. 17 September 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  5. “UBS says Indonesia's economic growth to reach 6 percent in 2010, 2011” iStockAnalyst. 28 October 2009. Retieved October 30, 2009 from  
  6. Simamora, Adianto P. and Maulida, Erwida. (2009, February 320). “Clinton, UN praise RI role in global climate talks” The Jakarta Post. Retrieved October 30,2009,from  
  7. “Scoping Indonesia's Next President”.(2009). Indonesia Election Watch 2009. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Indonesia Programme. Retrieved October 30, from  
  8. See Chapter XA and XI of The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia  
  9. “Radio Development and Indonesia’s Democratic Transition”. World Bank. Retrieved October, 30 2009 from  
  10. Harney, Stefano & Olivia, Rita. (2003). Civil Society and Civil Society Organizations in Indonesia. International Labor Office, Geneva  
  11. Bunnel, Frederick. (1996). Community Participation, Indigenous Ideology, Activist Politics: Indonesian NGOs In The 1990s. In Lev, Daniel S., & McVey, Ruth (Ed.), Making Indonesia (pp. 180-201). New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program.  
  12. Hoon, Chang-Yau. (2004). Ethnic Chinese experience a ‘reawakening’ of their Chinese identity. Inside Indonesia, 78,  
  13. Mujani, Syaiful. (2003). Religious Democrats: Democratic Culture and Muslim Political Participation in Post-Suharto Indonesia. Ohio: Ohio State University  
  14. “Aceh Peace Process Negotiations”.(n.d.). Crisis Management Initiative. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  15. Siswo, Sujadi. (2009, February 12). Rising tensions between Indonesian president and VP ahead of elections. Channel News Asia. Retrieved October 30, 2009, from  
  16.  Suryani, Luh De & Prathivi, Niken. (2009, April 17). Female coalition to report election fraud. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  17. Guerin,Bill. (2007, Mar 29). Politics of corruption in indonesia. Asia Times. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  18. “VP: Arrest those responsible in Bank Century case”.(2008, November 2008). Antara News. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  19. Sutarto. (2009, September 10). Jakarta Court Throws Owner of Bank Century To Prison. Tempointeractive. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from,20090910-197296,uk.html  
  20. “Former Chairman of KPK Antasari Charged With Premeditated Murder” Bernama News Agency. 8 October 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  21. Fitzpatrick, Steven. (2009, October 9). Jakarta’s anti-graft boss Antasari Azhar on trial for murder. The Australian. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from,25197,26184123-25837,00.html  
  22. Abdussalam, Andi. (2009, October 31). KPK deputies’ arrest sparks speculation about police’s motive. Antara News. Retrieved October 31, 2009 from  
  23. Elliot, Lorraine. (2009). Human Security: A Response to the Climate Security Debates. RSIS Commentaries  
  24. Indonesia Earthquake Situation Report. (2009). ReliefWeb. Retrieved from$File/full_report.pdf  
  25. Maulia, Erwida. (2008). Income gap widens in Indonesia, most other countries: ILO. Asia News Network. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  26. “Indonesia’s Muslim Militants” BBC News. 8 August 2003. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  27.  Avonius, Leena. (2009). The Ahmadiyya and Freedomn of Religion in Indonesia. ISIM Review, 22, 48-49  
  28. Astuti, Fatima. (2008). Fallout from Jakarta’s Monas Incident: What is to be done with fringe groups?. RSIS Commentaries  
  29. Assyaukanie, Luthfi. (2009). Fatwa and Violence in Indonesia. Journal of Religion and Society, 11, 11-21  
  30. Assyaukanie, Luthfi. (2007). The Rise of Religious Bylaws in Indonesia. RSIS Commentaries  
  31. “Aceh passes adultery stoning law” BBC News. 14 September 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  32. “Indonesia Election Results” 11 April 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  33. Sukma, Rizal. (2009, June 30). Indonesia needs a post-ASEAN foreign policy. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  34. Parnohadiningrat, Sudjadnan. (2009, April 3). Indonesia and the G20. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  35. Tangkilisan, Wim. (2009, June 23). Which of the Presidential Candidates Gives Indonesia a ‘Soft Power’ Edge. The Jakarta Globe. Retrieved October 30, 2009 from  
  36. Hume, Cameron R. (2009, Feb 20). Secretary’s Clinton Successful Indonesia Visit. US Department of State Official Blog
Iqra Anugrah is a Master student at Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan. He is actively involved in a number of student movements

The Paradox of Indonesia’s Democracy and Religious Freedom
M. Syafi’i Anwar

More than three decades ago, Indonesia was widely regarded as a wellspring of moderate Islam. The leading U.S. magazine Newsweekdescribed the country as the home of “the smiling Islam,” insisting that the Indonesian version of the faith was more friendly and tolerant than that found in the Middle East. But history has moved Indonesia into a new religio-political situation.

Since the 1998 collapse of Soeharto’s New Order authoritarian regime, constitutional democracy in Indonesia has been progressing. The country has experienced three rounds of democratic and transparent general elections (1999, 2004, and 2009), the development of a vibrant press, and the rise of civil society movements. As a result, Indonesia has been deemed the world’s third largest democracy by population, after India and the United States.

However, the emergence of Indonesia’s democracy has been accompanied by an unintended phenomenon: the decline of religious freedom. The growing influence of militant Islamist groups has significantly contributed to this problem. They promote antipluralist ideologies and intolerant attitudes toward religious minorities like Ahmadis and Christians, threatening the future of democracy in the world’s largest Muslim country. In addition to inciting hatred and discrimination, they have mobilized mass support for communal violence. The evidence shows that these militant Islamists have attacked and even killed members of religious minorities over the last several years.  The Wahid Institute’s Report on Religious Freedom in Indonesia (2011) shows an 18 percent increase in religious intolerance in various provinces and cities compared with the previous year (2010).  Meanwhile, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace noted that there were 299 cases related to violence against religious freedom in 2011. The report also shows that West Java, East Java, and South Sulawesi provinces were ranked at the highest level of religious intolerance.

Not surprisingly, Indonesia has lost something of its former reputation and is increasingly seen as a home to “the angry Islam.” The government appears unable to control the militant Islamists, and religious freedom in the country is now at a crossroads.

There are five main factors causing the decline of religious freedom in Indonesia: (1) lack of law enforcement, (2) contradictory regulations related to the protection of citizenship rights and religious minorities, (3) the spread of intolerant ideologies and hostile attitudes toward religious others, (4) the weak leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and (5) the central government’s laissez-faire approach to local religious persecution.

The first factor refers to the inability or unwillingness of the police to maintain security and control  militant Islamists. Moreover, court verdicts on violent acts of religious persecution have been unfair and unjust. For example, a court decided to punish the perpetrators of a deadly February 2011 attack on the Ahmadi community in Cikeusik, West Java, by sentencing them to between three and six months in prison. One Ahmadi victim was even sentenced to six months in jail for attempting to defend himself from the mob. Many human rights institutions have protested such decisions, but have been unable to change them.

Contradictions related to the protection of minority groups can be seen in a number of regulations issued by the Indonesian government. For instance, the Joint Ministerial Decree on Ahmadiyah in 2008, which banned the group from carrying out certain basic activities, clearly conflicted with the spirit of the Indonesian constitution and international human rights documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). So too did the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree on Construction of Houses of Worship, which imposes a multilayered approval process for new religious buildings.

The spread of militant Islamist ideologies and intolerant attitudes is also problematic for Indonesia’s status as a plural and multicultural society. With their emphasis on a strict, legalistic, and exclusive understanding of Shari’a, militant Islamists have sought to divide society into “the house of Islam” (dar al-Islam) and “the house of enemy” (dar al-Harb), resulting in a perception that non-Muslims—particularly Jews, Christians, and “the West”—are permanent “enemies of Islam.”

The weakness of President Yudhoyono’s leadership is basically rooted in his ambiguity and indecisiveness in controlling the militant Islamists. Adding to their pressure on the government, in 2011 these groups declared that they would topple Yudhoyono’s administration if the president did not outlaw Ahmadiyah. But he remained silent and offered no reaction to this threat. Similarly, Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali has often made controversial statements against religious minority groups, yet Yudhoyono has never warned or corrected him. It seems that Yudhoyono has been losing his grip.

The effects of Yudhoyono’s weakness are far reaching. The central and local authorities have no clear guidance from the president on the protection of religious freedom and the management of religiously based conflicts. In this vacuum, several governors, regents, and mayors have issued policies and regulations aimed ostensibly at building “religious harmony,” for instance by prohibiting Ahmadiyah and Shiite Muslim groups or closing Christian churches. Ironically, such policies are mostly based on pressure from local militant Islamists and the conservative edicts issued by the MUI (Indonesian Ulama Council). The MUI’s rulings are essentially religious legal opinions and should not be legally binding. But local administrations are increasingly committed to such edicts, regardless of how they contradict the Indonesian constitution and human rights principles.

Among the five factors, Yudhoyono’s weak leadership is the most serious. Clearly, the situation would be better if he became more decisive and committed to enhancing religious freedom. More importantly, he should adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward any groups that are guilty of crimes against humanity or religious persecution.

Under current circumstances, however, it is difficult to see how the political winds might shift to support religious freedom in Indonesia. Consequently, the only alternative is to wait for the rise of a strong, decisive, and committed new leadership that will be able to secure the future of democracy and religious freedom. There are several potential candidates who may run for the presidency in 2014, such as Aburizal Bakrie, Prabowo Subianto, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Hatta Radjasa, M. Yusuf Kalla, Wiranto, and others. But it remains to be seen whether the Indonesian people will select the best candidate, one who is devoted to the democratic principles enshrined in the constitution, and willing to uphold them in practice.

* The writer is the former executive director of ICIP (International Center for Islam and Pluralism) and currently a senior Indonesia research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

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