This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable
Photo of Angry demonstrators
Photo of Angry demonstrators

Angry demonstrators are captured on film by our cameras.
"The military occupies seats in the national, regional, and local legislatures, and continues to exert a powerful influence on all levels of political life.
Photo of a protest

Indonesia's protests and marches are surprising in their intensity.
The New Democracy

Indonesia isn't moving toward democracy easily.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's current president, has a lot on her plate. Her main problem is simply holding the country together while it is being battered by armed separatist forces and increasingly bloody outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence.

She also has to deal with rooting out Islamic terrorist cells linked to Al Qaeda, rampant corruption, a weak judiciary system, and serious economic problems. And if that weren't enough, she has inherited a military that is accustomed to running the country with an iron hand, without civilian interference.

"The government continues to face enormous challenges because institutions required for a democratic system either do not exist or are at an early stage of development," notes the U.S. State Department's recent human rights report on Indonesia for 2001. "Existing institutions, including the government bureaucracy and the security establishment, are often obstacles to democratic development."
Video Clip
Dr. Sumiyarsi

Dr. Sumiyarsi describes how she and her husband are captured.

The armed forces are the biggest obstacle. The military occupies seats in the national, regional, and local legislatures, and continues to exert a powerful influence on all levels of political life. And though the national police force was officially removed from the army's control in 1999, the military continues to play a significant role in the policing of civilian life. There is "confusion in the police and armed forces regarding the respective responsibilities of each institution," reports the State Department. And the military and police continue to commit "numerous serious human rights abuses."

Some of the worst abuses occur in regions where separatist forces are operating. "Security forces were responsible for numerous instances of shootings of civilians, torture, rape, beatings, and arbitrary detention in Aceh, West Timor, Irian Jaya, and elsewhere in the country," notes the report. The military has also "killed, detained and abused" human rights activists and humanitarian workers in many parts of the country. President Megawati, despite publicly apologizing for these abuses soon after she took office, has reportedly moved closer to the Indonesian military in recent months, recognizing its role in holding the nation together.

But there has been some progress toward democracy.

The most visible example is the fact that the newly elected Indonesian Assembly was able to peacefully remove the former President, Abdurrahman Wahid, from office last year without the country slipping into civil war. The nonviolent transfer of executive power is one of the hallmarks of democracy.

There has also been substantial growth in political life. When Suharto held power, all political life was channeled through three officially sanctioned parties, which were tightly monitored and controlled. Dissenting perspectives were simply not tolerated. Suharto's fall in 1998 released an explosion of suppressed political energy. When open elections were held on June 7, 1999, 48 political parties competed for seats in the government.

There has also been a corresponding growth in the freedom of the media. Under Suharto, the Ministry of Information tightly monitored and restricted the media and foreign press. The last three years have witnessed the birth of some 300 new publications and eight new television channels, and the media has been allowed to express itself in an unrestrained manner.

Print this page.
Email this page to a friend.
Continue to Reconciliation

© 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

Real Player 56k T1 General Suharto Dictatorship to Democracy Reconciliation