world institute for asian studies



Government and politics

Indonesia is a republic with a presidential system, and a unitary state with power concentrated with the national government. The President of Indonesia is directly-elected for five-year terms, and is the head of state, commander-in-chief of Indonesian armed forces and responsible for domestic governance and policy-making and foreign affairs. The president appoints a council of ministers, who do not have to be elected members of the legislature.

The highest legislative body is the Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat or 'People's Consultative Assembly', consisting of the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, Deputy Speaker: Agung Laksono) or People's Representative Council, elected for a five-year term, and the Dewan Perwakilan Daerah or Regional Representatives Council. Following elections in 2004, the MPR became a bicameral parliament, with the creation of the DPD as its second chamber in an effort to increase regional representation.

During the regime of president Suharto, Indonesia built strong relations with the United States and had difficult relations with the People's Republic of China owing to Indonesia's anti-communist policies and domestic tensions with the Chinese community. It received international condemnation for its annexation of East Timor in 1978. Indonesia is a founding member of the Association of South East Asian Nations, and thereby a member of both ASEAN+3 and the East Asia Summit. Since the 1980s, Indonesia has worked to develop close political and economic ties between South East Asian nations, and is also influential in the Organization of Islamic Conference. Indonesia was heavily criticized between 1998 and 1999 for allegedly suppressing human rights in East Timor, and for supporting violence against the East Timorese following the latter's secession and independence in 1999. Since 2001, the government of Indonesia has co-operated with the U.S. in cracking down on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorist groups.

Ethnic groups

Javanese 45%, Sundanese 14%, Madurese 7.5%, coastal Malays 7.5%, other 26%

The History

The area now comprising the archipelago of Indonesia, specifically Java, was inhabited by Homo erectus approximately 500,000 years ago, while the island of Flores was home to a newly discovered species of hominid, Homo floresiensis until approximately 10,000 years ago. The date of the earliest arrival of Homo Sapiens into the area was between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago (US Library of Congress). The earliest historical mention of the area was of the Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra around 200 BC by Indian scholars, and various archeological sites show the influence of the Hindu religion in the area from the first century AD to the fifth century AD.

Under the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism, several kingdoms formed on the islands of Sumatra and Java from the 7th to 14th century. The arrival of Arabs trading in spices later brought Islam, which became the dominant religion in many parts of the archipelago after the collapse of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. When the Portuguese came in early 16th century, they found a multitude of small states, vulnerable to the Portuguese, and later other Europeans wanting to dominate the spice trade.

In the 17th century, the Dutch became the most powerful of the Europeans, ousting the Spanish and Portuguese (except for their colony of Portuguese Timor on the island of Timor). British occupied Bencoolen (south of Sumatra) from 1685 to 1824 and built "Fort Marlborough".

Dutch influence started with trading by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a chartered private enterprise constituting a state in all but name, complete with its own fleet and army, which gradually expanded its influence and grip on political matters. Like the British, the Dutch mainly relied on indirect rule, using traditional native elites as vassals, while imposing their will and extracting major income under supervision by their colonial officials. After VOC was dissolved in 1799 by the Batavian Republic (Napoleon's Dutch satellite state) and the political instability from the Napoleonic Wars including partial British occupation (1811-1816).

Under British occupation, Thomas Stamford Raffles was appointed as the lieutenant governor of Java (1811-16). Bogor Botanical Garden was conceived based on his inspiration. He also wrote "History of Java" book. Based on Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 Bencoolen (South of Sumatera) was exchanged for Malacca.

Based on Treaty of Paris (1815), The East Indies were awarded to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Since then, the East Indies were officially ruled as the colonies of the Dutch crown.

There were 3 major rebellions against Dutch occupation: 1. Java War (1825-1830). The rebels were led by Prince Diponegoro from the kingdom of Mataram, central Java. 2. Padri War (1821-1837) in West Sumatra. The rebels were led by Tuanku Imam Bonjol. 3. Aceh War (1873-1903) in Aceh.

Under the 19th-century Cultivation System (Cultuurstelsel), large plantations and forced cultivation were established on Java, finally creating the profit for the Netherlands that the VOC had been unable to produce. In a more liberal period of colonial rule after 1870, the Cultivation System was abolished, and after 1901 the Dutch introduced the Ethical Policy, which included limited political reform and increased investment in the colony.

During World War II, with the Netherlands under German occupation, Japan began a five-prong campaign in December 1941 towards Java and the vital fuel supplies of the Dutch East Indies. Though Japan captured Java by March 1942, it initially could not find any national leader willing to collaborate with the Japanese government against the Dutch. Eventually the Japanese commander ordered Sukarno’s release from his prison island, and in July 1942, Sukarno arrived in Jakarta. Sukarno and his colleagues collaborated with the Japanese occupiers. In 1945, with the war drawing to a close, Sukarno was made aware of an opportunity to declare independence. In response to lobbying, Japan agreed to allow Sukarno to establish a committee to plan for independence. However, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared independence unilaterally on 17 August soon after the Japanese lost the war. Following the defeat of Japan in the World War, the Netherlands' Army, at first backed by the British, attempted to reoccupy their former East Indies colonies. Indonesia's war for independence lasted from 1945 until 27 December 1949 when, under heavy international pressure, especially from the United States, which threatened to cut off Marshall Plan funds, the Netherlands acknowledged the independence of Indonesia as a Federation of autonomous states. This federation soon became a republic with Sukarno as president and Hatta as vice president. See Indonesian National Revolution. It was not until 16 August 2005 that the Dutch government recognized 1945 as the country's year of independence and expressed regrets over the Indonesian deaths caused by the Netherlands' Army.

Sukarno, the leader of Indonesia's struggle for independence and its first president.The 1950s and 1960s saw Sukarno's government aligned first with the emerging non-aligned movement and later with the socialist bloc. The 1960s saw Indonesia in a military confrontation against neighbouring Malaysia, and increasing frustration over domestic economic difficulties. Army general Suharto became president in 1967 on the pretext of securing the country against an alleged communist coup attempt against a weakening Sukarno, whose tilt leftward had alarmed both the military and Western powers.

In the aftermath of Suharto's rise, hundreds of thousands of people were killed or imprisoned by the military and religious groups in a backlash against alleged communist supporters. Suharto's administration is commonly called the New Order era. Suharto invited major foreign investment, which produced substantial, if uneven, economic growth. However, Suharto enriched himself and his family through widespread corruption and was forced to step down amid massive popular demonstrations and a faltering economy by the Indonesian Revolution of 1998. From 1998 to 2005, the country had four presidents: Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie (1998 to 1999), Abdurrahman Wahid (1999 to 2001), Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001 to 2004) and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004 to Current). On May 21, 1998, President Suharto announced his resignation and ask[ed] Indonesian Vice President DR BJ Habibie to become the new Indonesian President. DR BJ Habibie was a famous aircraft designer and former Indonesian minister of research and technology. He was the chief of Indonesian Nurtanio Aircraft Industry (IPTN) (now become PT Dirgantara Indonesia). President Habibie was born in Makassar, Sulawesi and become the first Indonesian President from outside Java.

President BJ Habibie promised a multiparty, free, democratic election in 1999. He encouraged freedom of the press. His presidency was plagued by various bloody conflicts, both long-running ones in Aceh and West Papua and new ones in Maluku, Poso (Sulawesi), and Kalimantan. There was a major financial scandal (Bank Bali case) related to his friends and the staff of his political party. On 1999, President BJ Habibie agreed to hold a referendum in East Timor. The result of the referendum was an overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia. After the announcement of the result, there was a bloody riot in East Timor by the angry pro-Indonesia militia. The militia burned down houses, shops, schools, churches and government buildings. Hundreds of people were killed. The UN sent a peace keeping force to East Timor (UNTAET). The UN Human Rights Commission alleged that several Indonesian government staff and military officers were responsible for the riot. The Indonesian Human Rights Court freed all but one suspect. The only suspect punished for the human rights violation during the riot was Enrico Gutierrez, a former leader of the pro-Indonesia militia.

Suharto was the military president of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998.There was a general election for members of Indonesian parliament MPR (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat/People's Consultative Assembly) and Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR)/People Representative Council in 1999 and 2004. In the same 2004 election, people also voted for members of a new parliament body called Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (DPD)/Provinces Representative Council. In 1999, the parliament (MPR) rejected President Habibie's accountability speech because of the result of the East Timor referendum. Therefore he decided to resign and refused to run for a second term.

The parliament chose KH Abdulrahman Wahid (aka Gus Dur) as the new Indonesian President from 1999 to 2004. KH Abdulrahman Wahid was the leader of the most powerful Indonesian Islamic organization, Nadathul Ulama (NU). Unfortunately, he was plagued by serious health problems after a stroke (before he became the Indonesian President). The parliament also chose Mrs. Megawati Sukarnoputri as the new Indonesian Vice President. In 2001 the same parliament voted "No confidence" after a corruption scandal (Bulog fund) and a political crisis, forcing President Wahid to resign.

The parliament chose Mrs. Megawati Sukarnoputri as the new Indonesian president from 2001 to 2004. Mrs. Megawati Sukarnoputri is the daughter of the first Indonesian President, Ir. Sukarno, and the leader of PDI-P, the winner of 1999 election. Indonesia's first direct presidential election was held in 2004, and won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. It was the largest one-day election in the world.

A massive earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004 devastated parts of northern Sumatra, particularly Aceh. On March 2005, a powerful earthquake destroyed most buildings on Nias Island, west of Sumatra. Hundreds of people were killed. Partly as a result of the need for cooperation and peace during the recovery from the tsunami in Aceh, peace talks between the Indonesian government and Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM, the Free Aceh Movement) were restarted and have borne fruit in a peace agreement. Under the agreement, GAM is in the process of being disarmed by international observers and Indonesian troops are being completely withdrawn from the region. GAM members are being permitted to run for office in the region, in a break with the Constitutional requirement that all parties that run for elections must have nationwide support. On the morning of Saturday, May 27, 2006, the city of Yogyakarta was struck by a severe earthquake. More than 6,000 people are currently estimated to have died.