chapter  1
9 Pages


To choose Indonesia as a research topic resembles the proverbial attempt to catch the wind. Too vast is the country, too diverse its people, too long its history to allow for a satisfactory analysis. The country that Sukarno and Hatta declared an independent nation on 17 August 1945 is an extremely heterogeneous society, with divisions along ethnic, religious, and racial lines. A clear split exists between pribumi (indigenous) and other ethnic groups, as the Chinese, Arabs, Europeans, and Eurasians. Moreover, the pribumi divides again into over 360 different ethnic groups. Another dividing line and source for conflict is Indonesia’s religious diversity and the claim of parts of the Muslim majority to see their dominance expressed in political terms. After some short and turbulent experiences with democracy in the 1950s,

Indonesia remained under authoritarian rule until the fall of its second president, Suharto, in 1998. Civil society may not have been the key factor in the downfall of the 32-year-long authoritarian rule of President Suharto. Nevertheless, one of the most impressive images that stuck in the heads of observers around the world was the frantic demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people flooding the streets of Jakarta and other major cities in the archipelago in the weeks before and after the parliament session that re-elected Suharto for another presidential term. The pictures of student protestors swarming over the site and roof of the parliament building like ants became a symbol of the people’s resistance and uproar against the autocratic regime of the New Order and of their cry for reforms. However, the activities of civil society groups cannot be seen as separate from the context of the long-term socio-economic and political failures causing massive disparities and a political dead end. The societal destabilization that set in with the economic and political crisis in 1997, and the state’s disability to provide sufficient security and help, catapulted long-existing demands for democracy that led to the resignation of President Suharto. Needless to say, the expectations that the country would become a democ-

racy after the Western liberal model were high in Indonesia and abroad. The role played by civil society and, most prominently, the student movement, in the events leading to the stepping down of Suharto moved civil society into the center of international attention. Much was written in the transformation

literature about Indonesia’s civil society and its role in the process of democratization and democratic consolidation. Especially among the international donor community that supported Indonesian NGOs and had established various programs on democracy, civil society, good governance and the like, hopes were high that Indonesia’s civil society would profit from the political opening and the suddenly arising new spaces. Civil society was widely expected to promote democracy and help establish democratic norms and values-in short: a democratic culture. Reports of tens of thousands of newly established civil society organizations (CSOs) since the end of the New Order can tempt observers into concluding that a liberal civil society (and with it a liberal democracy) is quickly gaining ground in Indonesia. Indeed, Indonesia has been going through several transformations simul-

taneously since the collapse of the New Order: the transition from autocracy to democracy, from a highly centralized state to a decentralized one, as well as reforms of the military, the judicial and governance systems. More negative perceptions speak of a “negative transition from order to disorder” (Schulte Nordholt/Samuel 2004), taking into account several deficiencies that impede the reform process, such as money politics, corruption, opportunism, the lack of a strong civil society, and the government’s failure to restore the ailing economy. Civil wars, riots, secessionist movements, state violence, ethnic and religious violence, as well as criminality point at a weak state and political destabilization (Törnquist 2000; Wessel/Wimhöfer 2001; Colombijn/Lindblad 2002a). Therefore, after the first two euphoric years of ‘reformasi’, Indonesia’s democratic transition has been characterized by increasing disappointment. Post-Suharto ‘democratic’ politics have been marked by too many similarities with the authoritarian past. After the sudden and violent end of the New Order regime, a member and close associate of Suharto, former Vice President B.J. Habibie, took over the presidency. Despite his closeness with the old regime and a cabinet that was filled with New Order high officials, he initiated crucial democratic reforms. With his two successors in office, opposition figures Abdurrahman Wahid (1999) and Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001), disillusionment quickly set in as dramatic political reforms failed to appear. Although in the first years of Reformasi a great deal of attention and hope was placed on the role of civil society in the transition process, after 2000 the euphoria has continued to die away as well. Especially in the context of Indonesia, the conditions given for a civil

society-based approach for democratization have to be carefully examined. The growing number of critics of the commonly accepted civil society theory that establishes a link between a vibrant civil society and democracy should not be ignored. Contrary to widespread opinion, there is evidence that a lively and strong civil society cannot be equated with a successful path to democracy. As Omar G. Encarnación puts it, “more worrisome yet, such a civil society can actually undermine rather than advance democracy, especially if surrounded by failing or illegitimate political institutions” (Encarnación 2003). Civil society alone will not be able to create and support democracy

without working political institutions-an aspect that we should keep in mind while monitoring the evolution of Indonesia’s civil society. This analysis of Indonesia’s transition with particular reference to civil

society started out by applying a classical approach of civil society theory as well. It soon became apparent, however, that the political opportunities for civil society are clearly limited by the framework of failing state functions, corruption, and the persistence of predatory interests in society. Therefore, in order to understand the context in which civil society is developing and acting, it became necessary to analyze the political development of the state, its institutions, and politics as well. In this context, the party system, the functioning of democratic institutions, and the role of the military will be discussed. In addition, investigating Indonesia’s human rights situation and the state of the rule of law will provide further insights into the framework for building civil society. Why is it important to look at institutions? In the case of Indonesia, as a

post-civil war society, the only way to create and maintain peace is to get conflict parties or more generally, various political actors, to deal with their issues or conflicts within the bounds of democratic institutions. However, if these institutions are dysfunctional or non-existent, uncivil structures and channels will be chosen. This brings us to the next crucial step: the state’s challenge to eliminate uncivil repertoires of political behavior and expression as a precondition for democracy. Only by blocking alternatives can the “relevance of the common democratic institutions” (Gromes: 2005a: 2) be strengthened. In the wake of democratic opening, not only have pro-democratic civil society organizations mushroomed, but ‘uncivil’ society groups have come increasingly to the fore as well. Even (or especially) after the formal democratization of society, violence in various forms characterizes Indonesia’s socio-political climate. The dividing lines are blurred between political, privatized, and criminal violence. On the non-state level, violence is executed by self-defense or self-protection groups (vigilantism), militias, fundamentalist religious groups, terrorist groups, and many more. Many studies on Indonesia’s political transition after 1998 focus on the

state’s role, elites, and the military (Emmerson 1999, Manning/van Diermen 2000, Forrester 1999, Baker et al. 1999, Mietzner 1999 and 2002, Kingsbury 2003, etc.). Only few deal with the role of civil society (Hadiwinata 2003, Nyman 2006, Hefner 2000, Falaakh 2001, Azra 2003), however, chiefly limiting their observations and assessment to case studies of social movements and pro-democracy actors, i.e. the ‘good’ side of civil society. While transition research has produced numerous studies on the positive

effects of civil society on democratization processes, only few deal with the possible threat emanating from those parts of civil society that are marked by a “civic deficit” (Boussard 2002: 160). However, we have to accept the fact that the sphere between market and state is populated by a wide range of diverse actors, among them some with ambiguous agendas, using partly uncivil methods to achieve them.