ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

What's Wrong with Indonesia's Democratisation?

Indonesia's democratisation is not making much sense even to its major potential pro-democratic force - the people at large - as a way of promoting ideas and solving conflicts. There is an urgent need for a third path between determinism and idealism, that aims at substantial democratisation not in terms of good outcome for all but the promotion of citizen's actual capacity to make use of and further improve civil and democratic rights and institutions.

Not so long ago, Indonesian democratisation seemed impossible. But the old theories that modernisation is insufficient, or international dependency too extensive, have largely been abandoned. The efforts at rapid modernisation (as in Indonesia), and extreme independence (as in Cambodia) mainly produced authoritarianism. And the third wave of democracy reached several parts of the developing world anyway. So while the deterministic schools of thought proved wrong, a new idealist post cold war truth was born: the possibility to craft instant democracies, no matter what the conditions, by the introduction of internationally sponsored minimum human rights, free and fair elections, and ‘good governance’. And that, as we know, is what finally was attempted at in Indonesia as well – from late-May 1998, as the west and major parts of the domestic elite suddenly changed their loyalties and realised that the lack of legitimate governance was the root cause of the crisis. So when the economists had failed by ‘getting the prices right’ (ironically even triggering the end game by the reduction of subsidies on May 4), somewhat softer colleagues were then parachuted to also ‘put the institutions right’. Within a year or two, it was argued, Indonesia would thus be put on the right track by the combination of, on the one hand, economic and financial reconstruction, and on the other hand, the engineering of ‘appropriate’ governance, decentralisation, civil societies, and rights, and liberties – as a basis for free and fair elections, plus pacts among “moderate incumbents and realistic reformers”.

What went wrong? Why may now the historical chance to sustain the rise of the world’s third largest democracy end in a similarly historical failure? Let us make a brief summary of the major factors involved and draw the general conclusions.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top