Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Population: 220,500,000
GNI/Capita: $690
Life Expectancy: 68
Religious Groups: Muslim (88 percent), Protestant (5 percent), Roman Catholic (3 percent), other (4 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Javanese (45 percent), Sundanese (14 percent), Madurese (8 percent), Malay (8 percent), other (25 percent)
Capital: Jakarta


During 2003, President Megawati Sukarnoputri cracked down on suspected Islamic militants and ordered a renewed army offensive against separatist rebels in Aceh province. Her administration was far less forceful, however, in promoting human rights, tackling widespread official corruption, and reforming Indonesia's graft-prone judiciary and outmoded legal framework.

Indonesia won full independence in 1949 following a four-year, intermittent war against its Dutch colonial rulers. After several parliamentary governments collapsed, the republic's first president, Sukarno, took on authoritarian powers in 1957 under a system that he called "Guided Democracy." Sukarno proved unable to stem the country's political turbulence, while the economy stagnated. In 1965, the army, led by General Suharto, crushed an apparent coup attempt that it blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). In the aftermath, the army reportedly backed the massacre, between 1965 and 1967, of some 500,000 people, mainly PKI members. With the army's support, the conservative Suharto eased aside the populist Sukarno and, in 1968, formally became president.

Suharto's 32-year, autocratic, "New Order" regime jailed scores of dissidents and banned most opposition parties and groups. In the 1990s, Suharto increasingly concentrated power in himself and his family while allowing close friends to run large business monopolies that operated with little oversight.

In part to sustain its power, Suharto's government launched programs that helped lift millions of Indonesians out of poverty. Pundits placed Indonesia in the ranks of the "Asian Tiger" economies as output grew by 7.6 percent a year, on average, from 1987 to 1996. By 1997, however, years of poor investment decisions and profligate borrowing from weakly supervised banks had saddled Indonesian firms with some $80 billion in foreign debt. The economy shrank by 18 percent in less than a year after growing by 13 percent in 1996. To stave off a private sector debt default, the government agreed in October 1997 to a $43 billion loan package set up by the IMF.

Suharto resigned in May 1998 following months of unprecedented antigovernment protests over soaring food prices and three days of devastating urban riots. Vice President B. J. Habibie, a long-time Suharto loyalist, became president.

In June 1999, Indonesia held its first free parliamentary elections since 1955. Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) won 154 of the 462 contested seats, with Golkar, Habibie's party, taking 120 and smaller parties the remainder. In another break with the Suharto era, Indonesia's national assembly held its first-ever competitive vote for the nation's top offices that October, electing Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid president and Megawati vice president. Previously, the body, called the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), consisting of parliament plus 195 appointed representatives, simply rubber-stamped Suharto's decision to hold another term.

Wahid increased civilian control over Indonesia's powerful armed forces, though he was less successful in jump-starting the economy, or in containing the insurgency in Aceh or deadly ethnic and sectarian violence in the Moluccas, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. With his administration adrift and dogged by corruption allegations, Wahid was impeached by the MPR in July 2001. Megawati, daughter of the late Sukarno, became president.

Megawati generally is credited with stabilizing Indonesia's volatile post-1997 economy. However, critics charge that she has largely failed to reign in what is widely seen as a corrupt elite whose unchecked self-interest has sapped the economy and stunted political development. Many observers say that corruption has increased since Megawati took office, in part because of both a lack of enforcement and the recent decentralization of government in Indonesia; decentralization has expanded the power of local officials without improving their oversight.

Investors remain wary of sinking capital into Indonesia because of government corruption as well as fickle courts, inadequate laws, and apprehension that the government will ease its fiscal austerity with the completion of its IMF program at year's end. Economists say that Indonesia's recent economic growth rate of around 3.5 percent annually is only about half that needed to keep pace with new entrants in the labor market and to substantially reduce poverty.

By contrast, Megawati has shown greater resolve in pursuing a military solution in Aceh, an oil-rich province of 4.6 million people in northern Sumatra, where the military launched a fresh offensive against separatist rebels in May 2003. The government renewed its counterinsurgency operations against the rebels, known as the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), following the breakdown of a five-month ceasefire over the question of independence versus autonomy for Aceh. The province has been placed under martial law, and the military operates there with near impunity.

Megawati also has taken a tougher line against Jemaah Islamiyah, a network of Islamic militants in Southeast Asia allegedly linked to the terrorist al-Qaeda network. Initially reluctant to tackle homegrown Islamic militancy for fear of offending powerful Muslim constituencies, her government has arrested scores of suspected terrorists since a 2002 bombing on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people.

Courts have convicted several suspects in the Bali bombing, though a court in September acquitted Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, 65, of being the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah. Though the cleric was jailed for four years on other charges pending appeal, the acquittal was seen as a setback for Indonesia's antiterrorism campaign. Regardless of Bashir's fate, many analysts say that the government must take the sensitive step of investigating the handful of Islamic boarding schools allegedly linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, and further professionalize the gathering and sharing of intelligence, in order to better curb terrorism.

With Indonesia heading towards elections in 2004, Megawati is the front-runner in a wide-open presidential race, while the rejuvenated Golkar Party of former strongman Suharto seems poised for gains in the separate legislative balloting. With few real policy differences among mainstream politicians, the elections are unlikely to shake up Indonesia's mildly conservative politics, unless Islamic parties make unexpectedly big gains in parliament.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Indonesians can choose their legislators in free and reasonably fair elections and will elect their president directly for the first time in 2004. The country will hold legislative elections in April and presidential elections three months later. While civilian control and oversight of the armed forces recently have improved somewhat, the Indonesian military still wields considerable influence in politics and business. The armed forces are being weaned off their long-standing formal role in politics and are due to give up their 38 appointed parliamentary and MPR seats in 2004. The military continues, however, to have substantial business holdings and an extensive grassroots presence. An estimated 70 percent of the military's funding comes from off-budget business activities. The army also maintains a "territorial network" of soldiers in every district and village and has links with many provincial bosses. Unlike former president Abdurrahman Wahid, moreover, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has not attempted to curb the power of the military. A controversial bill debated during the year would increase the emergency powers of the military, particularly in Aceh and Papua.

Despite these ongoing problems with the military, Indonesia is evolving into a more open society. The private press, while at times shoddy and sensationalist, reports aggressively on corruption, government policy, and other formerly taboo topics. Journalists, however, face some police violence and intimidation and occasional attacks by paid thugs, student activists, and religious extremists. In another troubling trend, several journalists currently are facing criminal defamation charges over their reporting. In war-torn Aceh, the press has been censored heavily.

Indonesians of all faiths can generally worship freely in this predominantly Muslim nation, although officials monitor and have outlawed some extremist Islamic groups. Animists, Confucians, Baha'is, and others whose faith is not among Indonesia's five officially recognized religions have difficulty obtaining national identity cards, which are needed to register births, marriages, and divorces, according to the U.S. State Department's human rights report for 2002, released in March 2003. The five recognized faiths are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Professors and other educators generally can lecture and publish freely. In a serious setback for freedom of expression, however, at least 39 Indonesians have been detained or jailed for peacefully criticizing the government since Megawati took office in 2001, the human rights group Amnesty International reported in July. They include independence activists in Aceh, Papua, and Malaku and labor and political activists in Java and Sulawesi. Many were charged under colonial-era defamation laws.

Indonesia has many effective, outspoken human rights groups, including Imparsial, Humanika, and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, that aid victims and vigorously promote rights. They face, however, "monitoring, abuse, and interference by the government," the U.S. State Department report said. Indonesian workers can join independent unions, bargain collectively, and, except for civil servants, stage strikes. Government enforcement of minimum-wage and other labor laws is weak, however, and there are credible reports of employers dismissing or otherwise exacting retribution from union organizers. Moreover, unions allege that factory managers at times use youth gangs or plainclothes security forces – often off-duty soldiers and police – to intimidate workers or break strikes. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of Indonesia's 80 million industrial workers are unionized.

Despite recent reforms, "the judiciary remained subordinate to the Executive and was often influenced by the military, business interests, and politicians outside of the legal system," the U.S. State Department report said. Bribes influence prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in countless civil and criminal cases. Courts also often limit defendants' access to counsel and allow forced confessions to be used as evidence in criminal cases.

The judiciary's weakness has helped perpetuate human rights abuses by the security forces. In Aceh, the army has been implicated in summary killings, disappearances, rapes, illegal detentions, and other abuses against suspected GAM guerrillas or sympathizers, according to Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch. For their part, GAM forces have routinely summarily killed both soldiers and civilians, while intimidating and extorting money from ordinary Acehnese, these groups say. Army abuses also continue in Papua, and questions remain about whether the military and Kopassus, the intelligence service, were involved in a 2002 ambush in the province that killed two Americans. The government denies any official involvement in the deaths.

Indonesian forces also enjoy near impunity in encounters with ordinary criminal suspects. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said in an October report that it continued to receive reports of torture by soldiers and police not only of suspects in conflict zones but also of criminal suspects, peaceful political activists, and Indonesians involved in land and other disputes with authorities. In addition, guards routinely mistreat and extort money from inmates in Indonesia's overcrowded prisons.

Efforts to curb military impunity were dealt a setback by the acquittals or relatively short jail terms handed down in the recent trials of 18 suspects, including senior army officials, in the 1999 violence in East Timor that killed more than 1,000 civilians. In a series of trials that ended in August, a Jakarta court acquitted 12 defendants and handed down jail terms of between three and ten years to 6 found guilty. Amnesty International said that prosecutors failed to present credible cases and gave a sanitized version of the 1999 violence.

Ethnic Chinese continue to face some harassment and violence, though far less than in the late 1990s, when violent attacks killed hundreds and destroyed many Chinese-owned shops and churches. Unlike other Indonesians, ethnic Chinese must show a citizenship card to obtain a passport, credit card, or business license or to enroll a child in school, a requirement that makes them vulnerable to extortion by bureaucrats. Ethnic Chinese make up less than 3 percent of the nation's population, but are resented by some Indonesians for holding the lion's share of private wealth. A few ethnic Chinese have amassed huge fortunes in business, though most are ordinary traders or merchants.

Ethnic Dayaks in Kalimantan and other members of Indonesia's tiny indigenous minority face considerable discrimination. The government at times fails to stop mining and logging companies from encroaching on indigenous land in Kalimantan and other areas – often in collusion with local military and police – and appropriates land claimed by indigenous Indonesians for development projects without fair compensation.

In a positive development, peace is slowly returning to areas of the archipelago that recently have been torn by violence along ethnic or sectarian lines, including the Moluccas, central Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. In Kalimantan and other areas, many disputes between ethnic groups are said to be linked in part to the government's decades-old policy of resettling tens of thousands of Indonesians to remote parts of the archipelago from overcrowded areas such as Java.

Indonesian women face considerable discrimination. They are often steered by factory employers into low-level, low-paying jobs, and female university graduates reportedly receive salaries that are 25 percent lower, on average, than those paid to their male counterparts. Female household servants at times are forced to work without pay, for extremely low wages, or in situations of debt bondage. Female genital mutilation reportedly is still practiced in some areas, although the more extreme forms of the practice apparently are becoming less common. Trafficking of women for prostitution, forced labor, and debt bondage reportedly continues unabated, often with the complicity or involvement of police, soldiers, and officials, despite the recent passage of a child-trafficking bill and of stiffer provisions against trafficking of women.

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