Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia that was under a military dictatorship for 32 years. The dictatorship era started after the failure of communist coup d’etat by Indonesia’s Communist Party in 1966. General Suharto, the one who had the biggest role in failing the coup d’etat, ousted the first president and established an autocratic anti-communist regime known as the New Order, which attracted political and economic support from Western governments during the Cold War. At the beginning of this era, he said he would practice a kind of semi-direct democracy, while later, even the news in newspapers was controlled by the government.
His era was ended in 1998 by a huge student revolution and riots in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The revolution was triggered by the monetary crisis that dropped Indonesian currency to a very low point, 17,000 rupiah for 1 US dollar, and the fact that he was a very corrupt leader. While people saw the revolution as a new hope and the beginning of a reformation era, and got excited for the democracy they had longed for, it turned out that democracy is not as easy and simple as it seems to practice in a developing country, and they were not yet ready for it.
Mostly because of the low rate of educated people in the country, compared to the total of 200 million people, most Indonesians see the practice of democracy blindly and misunderstand it. They see it as just plain freedom to do anything they want to do without having to worry about any ban from the government anymore. From what has been happening in Indonesia, democracy is not always a better choice than dictatorship, especially in a developing country.
The first issue that comes in mind when comparing the Indonesian dictatorship era and democracy in Indonesia is the stability of the country. During the New Order era, there were hardly any big demonstration that ended up in riots and anarchism. The biggest and the only successful one was only the march of students in 1998 that ended the dictatorship era itself. However, the march sacrificed four students, who were shot dead by the armies. Because the military held a big role in internal security of the country, no one was crazy enough to organize a mass demonstration to the state palace.
This may seem like living in prison for some people, but for the citizens, especially the poor ones, all they care about was the ability to work for their families every day without any security issues. Especially serious security issues that make the streets of the cities unsafe to wander around whether at day or night. Since the reformation era started, there have been countless mass demonstrations that ended up in chaos, expressing their disappointment of the current government.
Because the current government cares a lot more about human rights issues, they are not able to violently suppress the mass like the New Order government did. This mistranslated freedom is making the citizens annoyed day by day, not being able to do the everyday routine because of the closed protocol roads, feeling unsafe when travelling to certain areas and a lot more security issues. This state also affects the economic growth indirectly, for the private sector especially, since foreign investors feel that it is a gamble to invest in Indonesia due to the unstable state and serious security issues.
Indonesia is a country that consists of more than 300 ethnic tribes, and realizing this huge diversity, the New Order government applied the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which means “Unity in Diversity”, right to its core. Doctrine programs about nationalism were commonly found in television and radio channels back in those days. It was considered very important to at least try to unify people from each part of Indonesia with a sense of nationalism and patriotism because a huge diversity in ethnic and religious background could lead to separatist movements.
Moreover, the New Order government never took a separatist issue lightly. When there was once a separatist organization in a part of Indonesia in the late 1980s, the military went straight to the area and ended their actions. In contrast to the New Order era government’s reaction to separatist movements in Indonesia, the reformation era government in its early days made a mistake by giving a referendum to East Timor, a province in central Indonesia that had longed to form its own country since the New Order era.
The referendum was to stay with Indonesia or to stand as an independent country, and the province chose the latter choice. This influenced other provinces that are not satisfied with the reformation era government due to the centralized development in certain parts of the country to start separatist movements. Even though Indonesia was led by a dictator during 1966-1998, there were still elections during the period. The election at that time was to elect one of the three political parties to get their members as new members of House of Representatives.
Since there were only three political parties, each time there was going to be an election, the campaigns never ended up in chaos and the election ended in peace. After General Suharto was ousted in 1998, there was some kind of a “party craze”, everyone intended to make their own political party, without any limitation from the government. Consequently, in the 1999 election, people had to choose from 48 political parties. It could be imagined how a country that was still very unstable after a revolution, had an election with tons of political parties.
Dangerous brawls between supporters of different parties were common during the campaign days. Since then, although the 2004 election only had 24 parties and in the 2009 election it increased back to 34 parties, the campaigns for election days are never safe days to go out of house. The last thing that makes an essential contrast from the New Order to the reformation era is the formation of radical organizations in Indonesia, ranging from religious to separatist. Because the religion of the majority in Indonesia is Islam, most of the organizations are Islamic and these organizations are the cause of most contemporary security issues.
They force the society to go with what they believe in and their extremist mindset. There have been cases of those organizations destroying pubs and bars that were still open until morning during the Islamic fasting month, or Ramadan. They frequently act like canonists by destroying places that, according to them and their radical minds, could degrade the morality of Indonesian youth. The government couldn’t do anything about it, worried about the human rights issue, and still finds it hard to separate religion from the laws that they have to apply in the country and this of course makes the country more unstable.
During the New Order era, there was a very famous term, Petrus that stands for Penembak Misterius, which literally means “Mysterious Executioner” in English. People and organizations that are considered to be endangering the security and stability of the country had a fair chance of never being seen or heard again after their actions. There were many cases of sudden disappearance of radical activists and organization leaders during that time.
This one could be considered a really extreme action for people who believe in democracy, but there were no other choice for a military dictatorship at that time to deal with people that could endanger the lives of their own citizens. Democracy, an ideology that is always praised by people all over the world, might not always be better than dictatorship in its appliance in a developing country. Since the people are not ready yet for it, I think what they need is a true form of representative democracy, with a strong leader that hails the freedom of people, but also knows the limitation of it.
Cite this Dictatorship to Democracy Overnight in Indonesia
Dictatorship to Democracy Overnight in Indonesia. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/dictatorship-to-democracy-overnight-in-indonesia/