IPCS Discussion: Society, Politics, Governance & Security in Indonesia

09 May, 2013    ·   3923

Aparupa Bhattacherjee reports on the themes explored in the discussion on Indonesia 2013

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer

Navrekha Sharma, Former Ambassador to Indonesia
Democracy in Indonesia is a new ideal, following two eras of dictatorship. It is a robust democracy with a popular elected President. There are several factors that led to such success: the presence of strong sense of nationalism, invention of one language for all, et al. Other explanations can be the unique culture of Indonesia which includes the traditionally innate resilience of the people; presence of two major civilian societies; and the healthy gender equation in Indonesia. The level of education although not high is wide spread. The most serious problems are the lack of federal structure in Indonesia and religious intolerance. The lack of federal structure is detrimental to the growth of a heterogeneous society, as it creates an identity crisis. In fact, the absence of a federal structure has also undermined the benefit of the presence of one language which has replaced several thousand languages and dialects of Indonesia. Although there is an Anti Corruption Board but both the legislature and the Judiciary are charged with corruption. Indonesia’s growth towards development has been affected by the growth in corruption and dishonesty. Indonesia is also undergoing changes in its way of Islam. Even this has had an adverse affect on the countries’ development.

Sudhir Devare, Former Ambassador to Indonesia
Indonesia has always played low key role, in the foreign policy sphere. It was only after 1990s that the country took steps to improve its presence on the global stage. That resulted in the APEC summit in Indonesia in 1992, and the assertion of its claims to a permanent seat in United Nations. Unfortunately, after the 1998 Asian financial crisis and transition of power, there was a decline in the global role of Indonesia. In today’s context, Indonesia is trying to capitalise on its development in order to project a stronger image to the outside world.  There are some factors enhancing this: the personality of the President; the shift to democracy with a relatively bloodless revolution; and improving economy. The economy has survived lots of ups and downs, but Indonesia is far more confident about the economic development. The country took the initiative to develop the Bali Democracy Forum which is an annual feature where leaders all over the world come together to discuss how to flourish, enhance and strengthen democracy. But Indonesia is not ready to get involved in BRICS. ASEAN remains the cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy. Although Indonesia is not directly involved in the South China Sea issue, they have been trying to take a stand in the issue. When it comes to bilateral issues, Indonesia does not have many major issues, except for some minor strife with some of its neighbours. Indonesia might not openly support America’s ‘pivot’ policy but it would like to see US presence maintained in the region, as it is vital for its defence. China’s influence on Indonesia, both at the foreign policy and the socio-cultural level is quite high. When it comes to Indonesia’s relations with India, there is a lot in common but these two countries are still strangers to each other.

Dr. Vibhanshu Shekhar, Visiting Fellow, IPCS
Perhaps, the most important challenges to the rise of Indonesia comes from growing radicalisation of identities in the country that challenges Jakarta’s credentials as a model Muslim democracy and cuts into its growing global popularity and its rising power status. The process of radicalisation has troubled the Indonesian leadership since the beginning of the country’s democratic transition in the aftermath of the departure of Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist and maintained the state’s moderate identity.

The process of radicalisation during the last fifteen years can be seen in two different stages marked by different goals, modus operandi and focus areas. Moreover, the state and the law-enforcement agencies also seem to have exhibited different characters. While the first phase saw Christian minorities being the main target, the second phase has seen non-Sunni Muslims being the main target. Moreover, in contrast to the outer islands being the main stage of operations during the first stage, the island of Java seems to have emerged as the focus area of radical forces during the second phase. In other words, the radicals perceived threats coming primarily from the non-Muslims and the state during the first phase.

On the other hand, they have begun to view, during the second phase, non-Sunni Muslims and nominal believers or the Abangans of Java as the main threat. While the first stage was marked by ethno-communal violence and terrorist operations, the second stage has seen frequent sectarian attacks against non-Sunni Muslims. While the first stage saw the state and government adopting zero-tolerance against the terrorist operations, the second stage has seen gradual caving in of the state to the radical pressure.