chapter  1
The New Order and its legacy: Reflections on democratization in Indonesia
Pages 28

Indonesia has been a democratic latecomer. The global trend towards democracy that has been termed ‘the third wave of democratization’ (Huntington 1991) has reached Indonesia relatively late, at the end of the 1990s. This striking tide of political change began in Southern Europe in 1974, spread to the military regimes of South America in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and culminated in the democratizations in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. The third wave of democratization reached the shores of East and Southeast Asia by the mid to late 1980s. Here, authoritarian regimes were replaced with democracies in the Philippines in 1986, in South Korea in 1987 and in Thailand in 1992. Indonesia, however, in the mid-1990s still seemed to be a safe place of authoritarian rule. Anders Uhlin in 1997 contended that ‘the third wave has obviously failed to have any profound impact on Indonesia’s democratic development’ (Uhlin 1997: 2). At that time the country has been in a ‘pre-transition phase’ (ibid.: ch. 7); that this was literally true became clear shortly afterwards when the Suharto regime suddenly began to crumble in the wake of the 1997 Asian crisis and gave way to a far more liberal political regime under Suharto’s successor, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie. Habibie embarked on a course of political reform: he promised fresh elections for spring 1999, released political prisoners, decentralized political power, allowed political parties to operate freely and liberalized the press laws. These reforms paved the way for the first free and fair parliamentary elections since 1955 on 7 June 1999, and the election of Abdurrahman Wahid as president in October 1999. Only one and a half years after the collapse of the authoritarian regime, Indonesia had become an ‘electoral democracy’. Yet, as Michael Malley has observed, democratization did not end at this point but was replaced by a ‘protracted transition’ in which authoritarian enclaves remained in place and competing elites struggled over the main state institutions and the direction of reform (Malley 2000). Further initiatives have suffered serious setbacks because politicians could not agree on the course of reforms and extra-parliamentary opposition forces remained weak. It was not until 2002 that Indonesia witnessed a new round of political reforms providing for

the direct election of the president. All in all, progress in Indonesia’s democratization has been somewhat slow and results have often been ambiguous. On the one hand, the transition opened up unprecedented freedoms, giving the Indonesian population the opportunity to elect their own leaders and the liberty to organize themselves freely. The free and fair parliamentary elections in 1999 and 2004, the first direct election of the Indonesian president in 2004 and the direct elections of regional heads since 2005 are encouraging signs of this new openness. On the other hand, the spread of democracy has by no means eradicated all forms of political repression as the military still exercises a huge influence, the political elite often uses power for their own ends and, above all, corruption is endemic and often leads to frustration within the Indonesian populace.