The Political Evolution of a Nation: Indonesia's Ideology, Social Movements and Democracy Across Regimes

The Political Evolution of a Nation: Indonesia's Ideology, Social Movements and Democracy Across Regimes pixabay

Indonesia, a country with a global democratic index of 64 and a regional democratic index of 11 within the Asia-Pacific region, has undergone significant social and political changes across different regimes. During the Dutch colonization period, autocracy and feudalism prevailed, with three main groups of social stratifications contending for influence, namely the Dutch colonizer, the priyayi or elite indigenous groups and the mass which encompassed the labouring poor.

Lack of access to education and welfare among the poor majority led to collective social movements and the rise of various groups such as the nationalist’s Budi Utomo, the Santri’s Serikat Islam and the labour movements’ Serikat Tani and Serikat Buruh. Albeit differences in ideology, they were unified in the struggle against feudalism and oppression. This movement also led to collective awareness and mass mobilization for the country’s independence.

Sukarno, who was influenced by Marxism, spearheaded the struggle for independence and later became Indonesia’s first president to instil social-democracy, mercantilism and a collaborative economy based on gotong royong, MSMEs and cooperatives.

Indonesia’s social democracy is encapsulated within its Pancasila ideology and Sukarno’s vision for a political coalition between the nationalists, the Santris and the communists, which was given the term Nasakom. This is envisioned to counteract imperialism, colonialism and capitalism.

Nonetheless, ideological contestations heightened during Sukarno’s reign, with political parties such as Partai Nasional Indonesia, Partai Komunis Indonesia and Partai Masyumi competing for reinforcements from university students, left and right-wing media, labour unions and feminist groups. Ideological contestations climaxed in 1965 with the violent uprising of Partai Komunis Indonesia and the abduction and murder of Indonesia’s Army Generals. This ignited oppositions and the resurgence of nationalism encapsulated through collaborations between Soe Hok Gie’s movement KAMI (Kesatuan Aksi Mahasiswa Indonesia) and the Indonesian armed forces ABRI (Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia).

General Suharto was chosen to instil order through the Supersemar (Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret), and after his success, through the People’s Consultative Assembly’s Mandate or Legalitas Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, Suharto was inaugurated as Indonesia’s second president. Soeharto initiated the New Order or Orde Baru regime which lasted until 1998. Orde Baru was marked by the recentralization of power and the degradation of democracy and social movements in favour of little or no voicing power, strict control of the media and the bureaucracy, and the prohibition of leftist and radical sectarian organizations.

Akin to structuralism, Orde Baru sees the need to annihilate oppositions, dissenters and the slightest disturbance to the regime’s political and economic development goals. Orde Baru’s controversial initiative, which allowed Foreign Direct Investment for infrastructure development and industrial growth, was perceived as the country’s shift towards liberal capitalism and Western alliance. This, coupled with the country’s militarily centralized political order, placed the military at the heart of governance for political stability purposes.

Orde Baru instilled the Kampus Normalization policy (Normalisasi Kehidupan Kampus/Badan Koordinasi Kampus) to eradicate ideological and religious radicalizations at the grass-root level. The oppressive nature of Orde Baru led to the rise of Indonesian university students’ elitist movements and their coalitions with NGOs, labour unions and political activists from the left. At its height, their protests were met with violence by the armed forces and led to the Malari (Malapetaka15 Januari) and Trisakti massacre.

Other controversial policies during Orde Baru included the centralization of rice supply and trade, the transmigration program for Javanese settlers to the outer islands, the development of Javanese cities as major financial centres, and the growth of Foreign Direct Investments to decrease national spending on infrastructure.

The corporatocracy of Indonesia’s mine and natural resources by armed force generals and the Indonesian-Chinese ethnicity, as well as their growing prowess in trade and the financial sector, displaced indigenous rules and collective ownership of land whilst deterring inclusive economy. This eroded Sukarno’s vision of a collaborative mentality based on gotong royong and instilled a mindset in favour of competition, private interests, private profits and the hegemony of political elites-capitalistic-militaristic triad in governing the country’s economic development.

This led to discontents and uprisings from activist-led coalitions comprising of students, intellectuals and academicians, leftist labour union organizations, the urban poor, NGOs and ethnic minorities, dubbed as the clash between the lions (the government and the military) and the foxes (the intellectuals). The Indonesian military retaliated and conducted sweepings, kidnappings and murder of key activists, including the murder of Wiji Thukul, Marsinah, and later during the Reformasi Era, Munir Thalib.

The 1997 financial crisis, the devaluation of Indonesia’s currency, the economic discrepancy between the middle and lower class, the failure of major national projects due to corruption and the unresponsive nature of Suharto’s government led to unprecedented mass mobilization, revolution and the downfall of Suharto in 1998.

The reformation era (Era Reformasi) is marked by the need to instil good governance, inclusive decision making and political integration based on tolerance, sound political ‘contract’ and social democracy.

Pressure mounds for the government to instil pluralism/multiculturalism and political integration through its contested Pancasila ideology without reverting to Western liberal democracy. Movements of sectarian Islamic groups such as Front Pembela Islam, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia seek to revert the country’s secular ideology into a non-secular ideology based on religious doctrines to counteract hyper-capitalism, liberalism and Western hegemony in the country.

Pressure also mounds for the Indonesian Government to manage them through collaborative de-escalation/neutralization programs in which their demilitarization and political inclusion may be enacted through co-optation into major political parties and/or through coalitions with government-approved NGOs and unions. Issues which loom large during the Reformation Era include the privatizations of state-owned enterprises, the conversion of public universities and hospitals to Badan Hukum to induce corporatocracy and stimulate market, and the dispossession of urban land from the urban majority, especially the urban poor for commodification and commercialization purposes.

Indonesia’s dynamic collaborations with superpowers such as China and the United States also sway public opinion as to President Jokowi’s stance within the liberal-conservative/authoritarian-democratic/capitalism-socialism spectrum, as well as creating a strong message to the 2023 voters of the stance of Jokowi’s party (PDIP) and its coalition on the matter.

Astrid Meilasari- Sugiana is a lecturer and researcher in the Political Science Department at Bakrie University in Jakarta.

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