Capital: Jakarta
Population: 231,600,000

Political Rights Score: 2
Civil Liberties Score: 3
Status: Free


Indonesia's parliament in 2007 focused on political reform in advance of the 2009 legislative and presidential elections, with ample debate over amendments to four key political laws. The Constitutional Court issued two significant rulings during the year, overturning articles of the penal code that criminalized defamation and allowing independent candidates to contest local elections. Progress was also achieved in Indonesia's counterterrorism campaign, with major arrests in January and July.

Indonesia won independence from its Dutch colonial rulers in 1949. After several parliamentary governments collapsed, the republic's first president, Sukarno, assumed authoritarian powers in 1957 and established a system he called "Guided Democracy" by balancing the conservative Indonesian National Army (TNI) and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) against his Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI). In 1965, the army, led by General Suharto, crushed an apparent PKI-led coup attempt. The TNI and its conservative Muslim allies subsequently engaged in mass acts of violence against suspected PKI members that resulted in an estimated 500,000 deaths. With TNI backing, Suharto formally became president in 1968.

Suharto's "New Order" regime merged "old order" political parties into two easily controlled groups and created Golkar, a progovernment party based on bureaucratic and military interests whose victory was assured by heavily constrained and manipulated elections. Suharto created a political system that rewarded supporters and punished opponents, while embarking on a development program that helped the Indonesian economy grow by an annual average of 7 percent for three decades. By the 1990s, Suharto's children and cronies were the major beneficiaries of state privatization schemes and often ran large business monopolies with little oversight. The 1997 Asian financial crisis drastically devalued the currency, and in 1998 the country's economy shrank by 13.8 percent – the largest single-year contraction for any country since the Great Depression.

Soaring prices and rising unemployment prompted devastating urban riots in May 1998, and Suharto was forced to resign. Vice President B. J. Habibie, a longtime Suharto loyalist, succeeded him. Habibie removed legal constraints on the press, labor unions, and political parties in response to the reformasi (reformation) movement.

In June 1999, Indonesia held its first free legislative elections since 1955. The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), led by Sukarno's daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, won the largest number of seats, followed by Golkar. Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid was selected as president and Megawati as vice president in October.

Indonesia's deep-seated political, economic, and social problems continued unabated along with violence in Aceh, the Moluccas, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. Megawati became president in July 2001 after Wahid was impeached as a result of corruption allegations.

Megawati was credited with the stabilization of Indonesia's post-1997 economy as well as a simultaneous rise in corruption, in part because the decentralization process she oversaw expanded local government powers without extending effective oversight. Megawati's administration also faced a significant rise in internal security threats. Security forces arrested scores of suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – a transnational network of Southeast Asian Islamist militants loosely linked to al-Qaeda – after terrorist bombings on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people in 2002. Similar hard-line tactics were used against insurgencies in Aceh and Papua, but they failed to bring peace.

In the April 2004 parliamentary elections, voters shifted support from the PDI-P to the Democratic Party (PD), the electoral vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), formerly Megawati's coordinating minister for political and security affairs. Still, the PD won only 55 out of 550 seats in the House of Representatives (DPR). Golkar emerged as the largest but not the majority party, taking 128 seats, and the PDI-P followed close behind with 109 seats. Electoral advances for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) largely reflected reform-oriented voters' attraction to the party's anticorruption platform. SBY won 61 percent of the vote and claimed a mandate for change in the September 2004 direct presidential election.

His administration was quickly challenged by the devastating December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, an oil-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra. An estimated 237,000 Indonesians were counted dead or missing, more than half a million were rendered homeless, and property damage was estimated at between $4.5 billion and $5 billion. Cooperation between government troops and separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) insurgents in the tsunami's aftermath helped to launch ceasefire negotiations, which led to a peace agreement in August 2005. The GAM formally disarmed in December 2005, and the military and police presence in the province was significantly reduced by January 2006.

Aceh in December 2006 held peaceful, landmark elections in which GAM's governor/deputy governor team – Irwandi Yusuf and Muhammad Nazar – secured an overwhelming victory. Peace held in 2007, but unresolved problems between Aceh and Jakarta continued to fester, and high unemployment contributed to the rise of violent robberies, extortion, and illegal mining. Allegations of inequitable divisions of reintegration funding deepened rifts within GAM's leadership and inhibited the effects of a new moratorium on logging. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), GAM's armed wing, now called the Aceh Transition Committee (KPA), assumed the role of a shadow government and was believed to be heavily involved in illegal logging activity.

Jakarta continues to fear separatism in Papua, while Papuans generally resent the government's exploitation of the province's natural resources. The conflict has become increasingly localized and characterized by rivalry among tribal elites. The development of oil-palm plantations – part of the government's plan to reduce spending on petrol subsidies and supported by Papua's governor as an antipoverty measure – has brought an influx of non-Papuan workers and firms, prompting land disputes. A July 2007 Human Rights Watch report noted serious human rights violations by police in the province.

The counterterrorism campaign against JI made major breakthroughs in 2007. Two police raids in Poso, Central Sulawesi, in January killed 17 Islamist radicals, and the authorities in July arrested Zarkasi, the head of JI since 2004, and Abu Dujana, the leader of the group's military wing. Meanwhile, although underlying grievances remained, incidents of Muslim-Christian violence and jihadism in Poso significantly declined in 2007. SBY's comprehensive deradicalization program, in which former terrorists are sent into prisons as advocates of reconciliation, also proved instrumental to recent counterterrorism successes. According to the ICG, however, JI retained more than 900 members nationwide as well as the goal of establishing an Islamic state.

National debate over an Islamic state – which had been paramount in 2006 – significantly ebbed in 2007, with attention largely shifting to the amendment of political laws in advance of the 2009 parliamentary elections. A major Constitutional Court ruling made it legal for independent candidates to contest local elections without official party endorsement, but the July 23 decision came too late to apply to Jakarta's first direct local elections, held in early August. Incumbent deputy governor Fauzi Bowo and his "Jakarta coalition" of 19 parties defeated PKS candidate and retired police officer Adang Daradjatun by a 60-40 margin.

With roughly 40 million Indonesians living in poverty, job creation, economic growth, and anticorruption efforts remained at the forefront of SBY's agenda in 2007 and were likely to be decisive factors in the 2009 elections. The DPR in March passed a long-awaited investment law designed to ease conditions for foreign investors, but its real benefits remained uncertain, and tax and labor law reforms continued to stall. Indonesia nevertheless experienced its greatest economic expansion in a decade in 2007. Many Indonesians expressed frustration with SBY's tendency to relent in the face of public pressure and saw his failure to deliver on a number of reforms as a lack of accountability. A series of public-transport disasters early in the year furthered this trend, plunging the president's popularity to an all-time low in April. In an effort to improve perceptions of government performance, SBY reshuffled his cabinet in May. The five ministers replaced included State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin, both implicated in a money-laundering scandal involving Tommy Suharto, the former president's son. Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa, chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), was also replaced but moved to the position of state secretary. A Golkar loyalist was appointed to head the state enterprises ministry, but that marked the party's only gain in the shuffle.

The fact that Vice President Yusuf Kalla is the chairman of Golkar has generally helped shore up the administration's support in the DPR, but reform has been hindered by the president's need to placate his coalition partners, especially as the DP aims to secure at least 15 percent of seats in the 2009 parliamentary vote. Decisions made at Golkar's national leadership meeting in November reduced the likelihood that Kalla would be selected as the party's presidential candidate. Former president Megawati announced her bid for the presidency in September, and remained SBY's primary rival at year's end. A series of meetings between Golkar and the PDI-P – the country's two largest secular, nationalist parties – raised suspicions that they were planning an electoral alliance, which would guarantee them a parliamentary majority. However, their clear differences suggested that cooperation would be limited to joint support for regional candidates and political law proposals.

Indonesia has assumed a more prominent role on the international stage under SBY and as a temporary member of the UN Security Council in 2007-08. In May, the parliament questioned SBY's decision to support a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Iran, reflecting the dilemma faced by the Indonesian government as it sought to improve relations with Western governments while maintaining the support of its own Muslim population. Relations with Singapore were strained by negotiations over a long-contested extradition treaty and a defense agreement concerning joint military training; neither was ratified due to Indonesia's concern that the defense agreement compromised national sovereignty. Increasingly strong ties with Russia resulted in the signing of an arms deal in September, intended to lessen dependence on the United States. In December, Indonesia hosted the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Indonesia is an electoral democracy. In 2004, for the first time, Indonesians directly elected their president and all 550 members of the House of Representative (DPR), as well as representatives to a new legislative body, the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). Before 2004, presidents were elected by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), then made up of elected lawmakers and appointed officials. The MPR, currently comprised of elected DPR and DPD members, now performs tasks involving the swearing in and dismissal of presidents and the amendment of the constitution. The DPD is tasked with proposing, discussing, and monitoring laws related to regional autonomy. Presidents and vice presidents can serve up to two five-year terms. Legislators also serve five-year terms.

Currently, parties that fail to win 3 percent of the vote are not allowed to contest future elections, and 2009 presidential candidates must be nominated by at least 15 percent of the members of the DPR. In 2007, the DPR debated a package of amendments to four political laws on presidential elections, legislative elections, political parties, and the structure of legislative assemblies. At the heart of the debate was the nature of the party-list system, with democracy activists pushing for amendments that would allow Indonesians to vote for individual candidates rather than deliver legislative seats to party favorites. Another matter of contention was the PDI-P and Golkar's joint proposal to raise the threshold of support required for parties to run in subsequent elections to 5 percent of seats in the DPR, and to limit presidential nominations to parties with 15 percent of seats in parliament or 20 percent of the 2009 vote (or which comprise coalitions with equal degrees of support). Smaller parties naturally dissented, and resolution on the set of bills was not reached by year's end.

Staggered, direct elections for regional leaders across Indonesia began in June 2005 and are scheduled to continue through 2008. Polls have generally been considered to be free, fair, and relatively peaceful; roughly 40 percent of incumbent candidates had been voted out of office since the elections began. In a significant step for local democracy, the Constitutional Court in July 2007 ruled to allow independent candidates to contest local elections. Previously, candidates had to be nominated by political parties that, in turn, were required to have a nationwide network of members and offices. These requirements tended to perpetuate corrupt practices, with nominations often sold to the highest bidder. Independents are expected to be able to begin running in early 2008, after the 2004 Law on Regional Autonomy is amended. Aceh's July 2006 governance law already allowed independent candidates to run as part of an effort to integrate former GAM separatists into the political process.

While the military formally withdrew from politics when it lost its 38 appointed seats in the MPR in 2004, the army maintains a "territorial network" of soldiers in every district and village, which gives it influence at the local level.

Corruption remains endemic in Indonesia and pervades numerous sectors, including the judiciary, police force, civil service, and public school system. A World Bank report published in June 2007 found that Indonesia's rapid decentralization program, which began in 2001, may have exacerbated corruption by empowering local officials with the delivery of services and fostering incentives for "money politics." Recent Transparency International surveys found that Indonesians consider the DPR and political parties to be the country's most corrupt institutions. Indonesia was ranked 143 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), created by the government in 2003, is comprised of special prosecutors with the power to investigate any official misconduct believed to have cost the state more than one billion rupiah (approximately US$10,500). The KPK has successfully raised expectations that acts of corruption will be punished. Anticorruption watchdog groups expressed concern about its future trajectory, however, following the DPR's appointment of five new commissioners – with questionable track records on graft – in December 2007. The new head of the KPK, Antasari Azhar, had decided not to prosecute former president Suharto for corruption, or to detain his son on murder charges, while serving as director of prosecutions for the attorney general's office. Political biases and the vested interests of DPR members are believed to have factored into the new appointments. Moreover, the KPK is criticized for failing to convict law enforcement officers, specifically prosecutors and police, which falls within its mandate.

Since 2004, cases brought before the KPK have been tried at the corruption court, which has a much stronger record than the administrative court. In December 2006, however, the Constitutional Court, under the leadership of a Golkar loyalist, deemed the corruption court unconstitutional as it creates a "duality in the judicial system." A draft anticorruption law that would have firmly abolished the corruption court was rejected by parliament before the end of 2007.

Criminal charges against Suharto, for allegedly taking $600 million from seven charitable foundations while in power, were dropped in May 2006 on account of his health, but a new civil lawsuit was brought against him in 2007 on the same charges. Golkar continued to face criticism for links to corruption. In September, Golkar lawmaker Nurdin Halid was sentenced to two years in prison for misuse of State Logistics Agency funds in 1998. Meanwhile, in an apparent conflict of interest, several high-level officials continue to own some of the country's largest businesses; Golkar's Aburizal Bakrie, the coordinating minister for the people's welfare, is also chairman of Bakrie and Brothers, a major Suharto-era conglomerate.

The state of press freedom in Indonesia remains mixed but continues to improve gradually. The Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia's largest trade union for journalists, counted 58 cases of press freedom violations and violence against journalists from August 2006 to August 2007, compared with 61 cases in the previous year. The country has a large independent media presence, with roughly 60 radio stations in Jakarta and 10 independent television stations nationwide, in addition to the public Televisi Republik Indonesia. Yet, strict licensing rules mean that thousands of television and radio stations operate illegally. International press freedom groups have been sharply critical of a new set of private broadcasting regulations that went into effect in February 2006, and they continue to lobby the government to ensure that the draft right-to-information law under consideration in the parliament respects international standards. The foreign press has been banned from the restive province of Papua since 2003.

Libel laws influence how journalists frame their stories, and journalists continue to face defamation charges. Marking a major step forward for freedom of expression, however, the Constitutional Court ruled in July 2007 that Articles 154 and 155 of the penal code, which criminalize defamation of the government, are unconstitutional and void. A December 2006 Constitutional Court decision had struck down three articles of the criminal code that banned insulting the president and vice president. Article 311 of the criminal code still makes defamation punishable by four years in prison, and in effect, the government can still bring defamation charges against journalists. But a claim now needs to be filed, whereas previously the police could simply be ordered to arrest offenders, such as protesters carrying critical signs. In another positive development in April, the editor of Playboy Indonesia was acquitted of publishing indecent material; the ruling held that the case should have been handled under the 1999 Press Law, not the criminal code. September brought a significant setback, however, when the Supreme Court required Time Asia to pay an estimated $100 million in damages for a 1999 story on the Suharto family's fortune and embezzlement. The decision overturned two lower-court rulings in favor of the magazine.

Meanwhile, various forms of cultural expression have flourished in recent years. There are an estimated 20 million internet users (8.5 percent of the population) in Indonesia, and no reported government restrictions on access.

Indonesia officially recognizes Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and – thanks to a February 2006 speech by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) – Confucianism. Freedom of religion remains limited to the extent that social pressure requires adherence to one of these faiths. Atheism is not accepted. Animists, Baha'is, and other members of unrecognized religions have difficulty obtaining national identity cards, which are needed to register births, marriages, and divorces. While the number of religious attacks declined in 2007 as compared with 2006, concern remains regarding the national government's failure to respond to intolerance in recent years. After the state-funded Religious Scholars Council of Indonesia (MUI) issued a November fatwa (Islamic religious edict) condemning heresy by the Ahmadiyya sect, a heterodox Islamic group with 400,000 Indonesian followers, Ahmadis in West Java faced a number of violent attacks in December. No prosecutions followed.

The passage of a number of local ordinances based on Sharia (Islamic law) in 2006 has not developed into a national trend. No additional Sharia ordinances were introduced in 2007, although none of those passed in 2006 were revoked. The new minister of home affairs, appointed in August, was reportedly charged with rolling back these local bylaws. The national government and various parties are believed to hesitate in confronting this issue because of the sensitivity of morality and religious issues in Indonesian life. A draft pornography law that would have criminalized publications, performances, dress, and behavior deemed immoral was introduced by the PKS and debated by the DPR for much of 2006, but it was then withdrawn and significantly scaled back as result of widespread public criticism. Academic freedom in Indonesia is generally respected.

Indonesia has many effective, outspoken human rights groups, but some are subject to monitoring and interference by the government. Independence activists in Papua and in the Moluccas, and labor and political activists in Java and Sulawesi, all remain targets for human rights abuses. The case of Munir Said Thalib, a prominent rights activist who died of arsenic poisoning in 2004 while on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam, remains unresolved. However, following the Supreme Court's 2006 decision to overturn the previous year's conviction of pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto for the crime, a new motion was filed in July 2007 seeking to reinstate the conviction based on new evidence. Investigators had discovered recorded conversations between Priyanto and the airline owner that incriminated state intelligence officials and a Supreme Court justice at the time.

Freedom of assembly is generally respected by the government, and peaceful protests are commonplace in the capital. Authorities have restricted this right in conflict areas, however. In February 2007, Human Rights Watch released a report calling attention to a series of criminal convictions in recent years involving political activists detained for participating in peaceful separatist activities in Papua. The report noted that at least 18 Papuan activists were in detention for taking part in flag-raising ceremonies.

Indonesian workers can join independent unions, bargain collectively, and, except for civil servants, stage strikes. The current labor code allows for workers to be extensively compensated upon resignation and makes it very expensive for employers to dismiss employees, thus discouraging long-term foreign investment in the country. A draft labor law designed to improve the country's competitiveness was opposed in 2006 by labor unions, and even some business leaders, for the extent to which it shifted the advantage to employers. Reform continued to stall in 2007. The labor community is extremely fragmented, and government enforcement of minimum-wage and other labor laws is weak. Moreover, unions allege that factory managers at times use youth gangs or plainclothes security forces to intimidate workers and break strikes. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of Indonesia's 80 million industrial workers are unionized. There are approximately 700,000 child domestic workers in Indonesia.

SBY has made judicial reform a key objective and appointed well-known reformers to the positions of attorney general and chief justice of the Supreme Court. Yet, the Supreme Court remains the slowest of the country's judicial institutions to reform. The system remains so mired in corruption that justice typically is awarded to the highest bidder. Bribes often influence the outcomes of civil and criminal cases, and judgments are subject to influence by military personnel and government officials. Courts often limit defendants' access to counsel and allow forced confessions in criminal cases; the poor especially lack access to counsel and the practical means to navigate the legal system. Low salaries for judicial officials and the lack of punishment for illegal activity perpetuate these problems.

Indonesia has a separate Constitutional Court, which has established a record of independent rulings that take due consideration of legal principles, including landmark decisions in 2007 to allow independent candidates to contest local elections and overturning defamation-related articles of the penal code. Other Constitutional Court rulings, such as the 2006 decision to strip the Judicial Commission of its oversight powers, which will inevitably stall efforts to curb graft in the courts, are viewed more critically.

Members of the security forces regularly go unpunished for human rights violations. These include ongoing low-level abuses in conflict zones like Papua, but are largely related to land disputes and military involvement in illegal activities such as logging and mining – problems that were not addressed in the 2004 military reform laws. There were an estimated 280 land disputes involving the military and local communities in 2007. In an exception to the more general decline in abuse cases in recent years, marines opened fire on civilians protesting the military's seizure of land for a business venture in East Java in May; four people were killed and eight others were wounded. Thirteen marines were arrested but then released in September, and the military investigation has ended.

Senior military officers are not held accountable for human rights violations anywhere in the archipelago. Demands for investigations into past abuses are increasing, however. The Constitutional Court's December 2006 ruling against the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that would have awarded amnesties to perpetrators of past crimes and prevented victims from taking future legal action against them marked an important strike against impunity. Control over military justice was transferred from the Ministry of Defense to Supreme Court in 2005. A military justice bill that would require TNI soldiers to be tried in civilian courts – especially because those convicted in military courts regularly "disappear" – remains under deliberation in parliament.

TNI compliance with 2004 provisions requiring it to devise a plan for divesting its extensive business interests by 2009 continued to stall. The lack of progress is largely attributed to the fact that the military retains the right to decide what qualifies as a business (as opposed to a foundation or cooperative) and the lack of government regulations regarding how divestment should be carried out. General Djoko Santoso, a close SBY ally who is not considered a reformer, was appointed as commander of the TNI in late December 2007, allegedly to ensure military support for SBY in the 2009 elections.

Corruption remains endemic in the police force. While there have been a number of investigations, none led to convictions of police officers. However, effective police work has proven critical to Indonesia's recent successes in fighting terrorism. An elite counterterrorism force called Detachment 88 has been at the forefront of national efforts to combat JI and was responsible for major arrests of JI leaders in July 2007.

Detention laws are generally respected. However, individuals are sometimes arrested groundlessly and sentenced to several years in prison as part of the counterterrorism campaign. Prisons have proven a significant breeding ground for Indonesia's radical groups, not because of mistreatment so much as the prevalent corruption and lax control, which allows the circulation of radical materials.

Ethnic Chinese, who make up less than 3 percent of the population but are resented by some for reputedly holding the lion's share of private wealth, continue to face some harassment and violence, though far less than in the late 1990s. They 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 Dayaks in Kalimantan and members of Indonesia's other minority groups face considerable discrimination. The problem of mining and logging on communal land and state appropriation of land claimed by indigenous Indonesians is particularly acute in Kalimantan. Separately, a major September 2006 Human Rights Watch report documented the forced eviction of tens of thousands of urban poor in Jakarta, where local police and the military have used excessive force, including gunfire, at the behest of local government authorities.

Discrimination against women persists. They are often steered by factory employers into low-paying jobs, and female university graduates reportedly receive salaries that are an estimated 25 percent lower than those received by male counterparts. Female household servants at times are forced to work without pay, for extremely low wages, or in situations of debt bondage. Trafficking of women for prostitution, forced labor, and debt bondage reportedly continues unabated, despite the passage of a child-trafficking bill and stiffer provisions against trafficking of women. Abortion is illegal, except to save a woman's life. Sharia-like ordinances in a number of districts, passed in 2006, continue to infringe upon women's constitutional rights. In an important push for women's rights, five of the country's main political factions agreed in September 2007 to include a 30 percent quota for women as party executives in the political parties bill being considered by parliament. Reformers in the DPR's Commission on Internal Affairs are also pushing for a 30 percent quota for female representation in parliament.

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