Has Democracy Stalled in Indonesia?

Olle Törnquist
Working paper Lembaga Kajian Demokrasi dan Hak Asasi • Agustus 2007 India • Indonesia • USA


Indonesia, after India and the United States of America, is the third largest, albeit fledgling, democracy in the world, and the largest among the new ones. Its re-emergence at the time of the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 remains an historical opportunity of major proportions. Should this emerging democracy stabilize and become meaningful for the people at large, it would not only be of direct importance to hundreds of millions of disempowered citizens but also a milestone for human rights and democracy in general. What are the problems and options involved? First the historical lessons. While the ideas concerning human rights and democracy originated in the West, it was not the West but sections of the anti-colonial liberation movement (with a majority of Muslims involved) that brought human rights and democracy to Indonesia. Further, one needs to question the ideological thesis of the authoritarian rule that earlier efforts during the 1950s to introduce liberal democracy were abandoned since the country was ‘not modern enough' for democracy. In reality, the major problems were that the small, West-oriented middle class failed to generate popular support and opted instead for enlightened technocracy (spearheaded by the Socialist Party), and that the electorally more successful political parties (the nationalists, the two Muslim blocs and the Communists) were more concerned with positioning themselves within the framework of the externally imposed Cold War than with democracy.


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