Post-Suharto era

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The Post-Suharto era in Indonesia began with the fall of Suharto in 1998 during which Indonesia has been in a period of transition, an era known in Indonesia as Reformasi (English: Reform[1][2][3]). A more open and liberal political-social environment ensued following the resignation of authoritarian President Suharto, ending the three decades of the New Order period.

Issues over this period have included a push for a stronger democracy and civilian rule, elements of the military trying to retain their influence, a growing Islamism in politics and society, and demands for greater regional autonomy. The process of reformasi in Indonesia has resulted in a greater degree of freedom of speech, in contrast to the pervasive censorship under the New Order. This has led to a more open political debate in the news media and increased expression in the arts. Events that have shaped Indonesia in this period include a bombing campaign by Islamic terrorists (including the 2002 Bali bombings), and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Fall of Suharto

Main article: Fall of Suharto
1994 ABC news report of Suharto announcing he would retire in 1998 and speculating on who would replace him - including Jusuf Habibie.

The Reformasi (Reformation, or Reform) of 1998 led to changes in Indonesia's various governmental institutions, reforms upon the structures of the judiciary, legislature, and executive office. Generally, the fall of Suharto in 1998 is traced from events starting in 1996, when forces opposed to the New Order began to rally around Megawati Sukarnoputri, head of the PDI and daughter of the founding president Sukarno. When Suharto attempted to have Megawati removed as head of this party in a back-room deal, student activists loyal to Megawati occupied the headquarters of PDI in Jakarta. This culminated in Black Saturday on 27 July, when the Indonesian military broke up the demonstrations.

These actions, along with increasing concerns over human rights violations in Indonesian-occupied East Timor, began to unsettle Suharto's normally friendly relations with Western countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These further worsened when the 1997 Asian financial crisis reached Indonesia, highlighting the corruption of the New Order.

Economic instability from the crisis affected much of the country, in the form of increased prices for staple foods and goods, and lowered standards of living and quality of life. These touched off riots, many targeting ethnic Chinese Indonesians; bolstered by the findings of Parliamentary and independent investigations, it is often theorised that these anti-Chinese riots were instigated or aided by the military to divert anger away from Suharto himself.

In West Kalimantan, there was communal violence between Dayaks and Madurese in 1996, in the Sambas riots in 1999 and the Sampit conflict 2001, resulting in large scale massacres of Madurese.[4][5][6] In the Sambas conflict, both Malays and Dayaks massacred Madurese.

Shops looted and goods burned on the streets in Jakarta, 14 May 1998

Growing dissatisfaction with Suharto's authoritarian rule and the rapid erosion of the economy led many, chiefly the younger generation, to renew their protests directly against the New Order. During the years 1997–1998, a massive riot broke out in Indonesia. People were burning everything within the city including cars, motorcycles, buildings, and monuments in addition to pillaging and looting from stores. This was further worsened when many were killed and raped, most of which were Indonesians of Chinese descent. No action was taken by the army or the police. In 1998, Suharto made the decision to stand before the parliament for a re-election and won. The result was considered so outrageous that students occupied the Parliament. Suharto soon stood down from the presidency, and named B. J. Habibie (of Suharto's own Golkar party) his successor. Considered the unseen power behind the throne, General Wiranto of the Chief of Staff over the military that was central to the New Order, is believed to have been behind the decision of Suharto to step down.

Habibie presidency (1998–1999)

Habibie takes the presidential oath of office on 21 May 1998.

On Suharto's resignation, Vice-President B. J. Habibie was sworn in as President of Indonesia. As President, Habibie undertook numerous political reforms.

In February 1999, Habibie's Government passed the Political Parties Law.[7] Under this law, political parties were not limited to just three as had been the case under the Suharto regime. Political parties were also not required to have Pancasila as their ideology. This resulted in the emergence of many political parties and 48 would go on to compete in the 1999 legislative election.

In May 1999, Habibie's Government passed the Regional Autonomy Law.[8] This law was the first step in decentralising Indonesia's government and in allowing provinces to have more part in governing their province.

The Press became liberated under Habibie's Government although the Ministry of Information continued to exist.

Habibie also released political prisoners such as Sri Bintang Pamungkas, Muchtar Pakpahan, and Xanana Gusmão.

Habibie also presided over the 1999 legislative elections, the first free election since 1955. This election was supervised by the independent General Elections Commission (KPU) instead of an elections commission filled with government ministers as had been the case during the New Order.

In a move that surprised many, and angered some, Habibie called for a referendum on the future of East Timor. Subsequently, on 30 August, the inhabitants of East Timor voted to break away from Indonesian rule and become an independent country. The territorial loss to Indonesia harmed Habibie's popularity and political alliances.

Following Habibie's presidency, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri served as president. In 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected President. His coalition, which brings together figures from the military, business community, and conservative Islam, has restabilised the office of the Presidency.[9]

Wahid presidency (1999–2001)

In 1999, Abdurrahman Wahid became President of Indonesia. His first Cabinet, dubbed the National Unity Cabinet (Indonesian: Kabinet Persatuan Nasional), was a coalition cabinet which consisted of members of various political parties. Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), National Awakening Party (PKB), Golkar, the United Development Party (PPP), National Mandate Party (PAN), and Justice Party (PK). Non-partisans and the military (TNI) were also represented in the Cabinet. Wahid then went on to make two administrative reforms. The first was to abolish the Ministry of Information, the New Order's main weapon in controlling the media while the second was to disband the Ministry of Welfare which had become corrupt and extortionist under the New Order.[10]

Autonomy and tolerance toward dissent

Wahid's plan in Aceh was to give it a referendum. However, this referendum would be to decide on various modes of autonomy rather than to decide on independence like in East Timor.[11] Wahid also wanted to adopt a softer stance towards Aceh by having less military personnel on the ground. In March, Wahid's Government began to open negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Two months later, in May, the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with GAM to last until the beginning of 2001, by which time both signatories would have breached the agreement.[12]

On 30 December, Wahid visited Jayapura, the capital of Papua province (then known as "Irian Jaya"). During his visit, Wahid was successful in convincing West Papuan leaders that he was a force for change and even encouraged the use of the name Papua.[13]

In September 2000, Wahid declared martial law in Maluku. By now, it was evident that Laskar Jihad were being assisted by members of the military and it was also apparent that they were financed by Fuad Bawazier, the last Minister of Finance to have served under Suharto. During the same month, the West Papuans raised their Morning Star flag. Wahid's response was to allow the West Papuans to do this provided that the Morning Star flag was placed lower than the Indonesian flag [14] For this, he was severely criticised by Megawati and Akbar. On 24 December 2000, a series of bombings were directed against churches in Jakarta and in eight cities across Indonesia.

In March of that year, Wahid suggested that the 1966 Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) resolution on the banning of Marxism–Leninism be lifted.[15]

Relationship with the military

When he ascended to the Presidency, one of Wahid's goals was to reform the military and to take it out of its dominant socio-political role. In this venture, Wahid found an ally in Agus Wirahadikusumah who he made Commander of Kostrad in March. In July, Agus began uncovering a scandal involving Dharma Putra, a foundation with affiliations to Kostrad. Through Megawati, military members began pressuring Wahid to remove Agus. Wahid gave in to the pressure but then planned to have Agus appointed as the Army Chief of Staff to which top military leaders responded by threatening to retire and Wahid once again bowed down to pressure.[16]

Wahid's relationship with the military deteriorated even further when in July it was revealed that Laskar Jihad had arrived in Maluku and was being armed by the military. Laskar Jihad, a radical Islamic militia had earlier in the year planned to go to Maluku and assist Muslims there in their communal conflict with the Christians. Wahid had ordered military to block Laskar Jihad from going to Maluku, but nevertheless they still made it to Maluku and they were then being armed with what turned out to be military weapons.[17]

Buloggate and Bruneigate

The year 2000 saw Wahid embroiled in two scandals which would damage his Presidency. In May, the State Logistics Agency (BULOG) reported that US$4 million was missing from its cash reserve. The missing cash was then attributed to Wahid's own masseur who had claimed that Wahid sent him to Bulog to collect the cash.[18] Although the money was returned, Wahid's opponents took the chance of accusing him of being involved in the scandal and of being aware of what his masseur was up to. At the same time, Wahid was also accused of keeping US$2 million for himself. The money was a donation by the Sultan of Brunei to provide assistance in Aceh. However, Wahid failed to account for the money.


By the end of 2000, there were many within the political elite who were disillusioned with Wahid. The most obvious person who showed this disillusion was Amien Rais who showed regret at supporting Wahid to the Presidency the previous year. Amien also attempted to rally opposition by encouraging Megawati and Akbar to flex their political muscles. Megawati surprisingly defended Wahid whilst Akbar preferred to wait for the 2004 legislative elections. At the end of November, 151 DPR members signed a petition calling for the impeachment of Wahid.[19]

In January 2001, Wahid made the announcement that Chinese New Year was to become an optional holiday.[20] Wahid followed this up in February by lifting the ban on the display of Chinese characters and the importing of Chinese publications. In February, Wahid visited Northern Africa as well as Saudi Arabia to undertake the hajj pilgrimage.[21] Wahid made his last overseas visit in June 2001 when he visited Australia.

In a meeting with university rectors on 27 January 2001, Wahid commented on the possibility of Indonesia descending into anarchy. Wahid then made the suggestion that he may be forced to dissolve the DPR if that happened.[22] Although the meeting was off-the-record, it caused quite a stir and added to the fuel of the movement against him. On 1 February, the DPR met to issue a memorandum against Wahid. Two memorandums constitutes an MPR Special Session where the impeachment and removal of a President would be legal. The vote was overwhelmingly for the memorandum and PKB members could only walk out in protest. The memorandum caused widespread protests by NU members. In East Java, NU members went attacked Golkar's regional offices. In Jakarta, Wahid's opposition began accusing him of encouraging the protests. Wahid denied it and went to talk to the protesters at the town of Pasuruan, encouraging them to get off the streets.[23] Nevertheless, NU protesters continued to show their support for Wahid and in April, made the announcement that they were ready to defend and die for the president.

In March, Wahid tried to counter the opposition by moving against dissidents within his own cabinet. Minister of Justice Yusril Ihza Mahendra was removed for making public his demands for the President's resignation while Minister of Forestry Nurmahmudi Ismail was also removed under the suspicion of channelling his department's funds to Wahid's opposition. In response to this, Megawati began to distance herself and did not show up for the inauguration of the Ministers' replacement. On 30 April, the DPR issued a second memorandum and on the next day called for an MPR Special Session to be held on 1 August.

By July, Wahid grew desperate and ordered Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security to declare a state of emergency. Yudhoyono refused and Wahid removed him from his position. Finally on 20 July, Amien declared that the MPR Special Session will be brought forward to 23 July. TNI, having had a bad relationship with Wahid through his tenure as President, stationed 40,000 troops in Jakarta and placed tanks with their turrets pointing at the Presidential Palace in a show of force.[24] On 23 July, the MPR unanimously voted to impeach Wahid and to replace him with Megawati as President. Wahid continued to insist that he was the President and stayed for some days in the Presidential Palace but bowed down to reality and left the residence on 25 July to immediately fly overseas to the United States for health treatment.

Megawati presidency (2001–2004)

1995 ABC news report on the political rise of Megawati Sukarnoputri suggesting she "might one day become president".

Under Megawati Sukarnoputri, the process of democratic reform begun under Habibie and Wahid continued, albeit slowly and erratically. Megawati appeared to see her role mainly as a symbol of national unity, and she rarely actively intervened in government business. Under her tenure, the Mutual Assistance Cabinet (Indonesian: Kabinet Gotong Royong) helped govern the country. It included Megawati's successor, the retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The military, disgraced at the time of Suharto's fall, regained much of its influence. Corruption continued to be pervasive, though Megawati herself was seldom blamed for this.

Some Indonesian scholars explained Megawati's apparent passivity in office by reference to Javanese mythology. Megawati, they said, saw her father, Sukarno, as a "Good King" of Javanese legend. Suharto was the "Bad Prince" who had usurped the Good King's throne. Megawati was the Avenging Daughter who overthrew the Bad Prince and regained the Good King's throne. Once this had been achieved, they said, Megawati was content to reign as the Good Queen and leave the business of government to others. Some prominent critics such as Benedict Anderson jokingly referred to the president as "Miniwati."[25]

Although by 2004 Indonesia's economy had stabilised and partly recovered from the 1997 crisis, unemployment and poverty remained high. The Indonesian Constitution was amended to provide for the direct election of the President, and Megawati stood for a second term. She consistently trailed in the opinion polls, due in part to the preference for male candidates among Muslim voters, and in part due to what was widely seen as a mediocre performance in office. Despite a somewhat better than expected performance in the first round of the elections, in the second round she was defeated by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Yudhoyono presidency (2004–2014)

Two months after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono assumed office, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami struck in the province of Aceh and many other countries along the Indian Ocean coastline. Three months later, an aftershock of the earthquake which triggered the tsunami occurred in Nias Island. In 2006, Mount Merapi erupted and this was followed by an earthquake that struck Yogyakarta.

Indonesia also suffered a small outbreak of bird flu and endured the Sidoarjo mud flow. In 2007 severe floods struck Jakarta. Yudhoyono allowed Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso to open the Manggarai watergate with the risk of flooding the Presidential Palace.[26]

On 1 October 2005, suicide bombings occurred on the island of Bali. The attacks bear the hallmarks of the militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) -- a group with links to Al-Qaeda—though the police investigation is ongoing. This group was also responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. Yudhoyono condemned the attack, promising to "hunt down the perpetrators and bring them to justice.".[27]

In 2005, the economic growth was 5.6%[28] which decreased to 5.4% in 2006[29] Inflation reached 17.11% in 2005[30] but decreased to 6.6% in 2006.[31]

Yudhoyono also allocated more funds in an effort to further decrease poverty. In 2004, 11 trillion rupiah was set aside, increasing to 23 trillion in 2005 and 42 trillion in 2006. For 2007, 51 trillion was allocated.[32] In March 2005 and again in October 2005, Yudhoyono made the unpopular decision to cut fuel subsidies, leading to increases in fuel prices of 29% and 125% respectively.[33] The poor were somewhat compensated by the Direct Cash Assistance (BLT), but the subsidy cutting damaged Yudhoyono's popularity. In May 2008, rising oil prices contributed to Yudhoyono's decision to again cut fuel subsidies, which were the subject of protests in May and June 2008.

In 2009, Yudhoyono was elected for a second term in the 2009 presidential election along with Boediono, former Governor of Bank Indonesia. They defeated 2 candidates: Megawati Soekarnoputri - Prabowo Subianto and incumbent vice-president, Jusuf Kalla - Wiranto. Yudhoyono - Boediono won the election with more than 60% votes of nationwide in the first round.


  1. US Indonesia Diplomatic and Political Cooperation Handbook, Int'l Business Publications, 2007, ISBN 1433053306, page CRS-5
  2. Robin Bush, Nahdlatul Ulama and the Struggle for Power Within Islam and Politics in Indonesia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009, ISBN 9812308768, page 111
  3. Ryan Ver Berkmoes, Lonely Planet Indonesia, 2010, ISBN 1741048303, page 49
  4. Armed Conflicts Report.Indonesia - Kalimantan
  5. Dayak
  7. "Undang-Undang RI No 2 Tahun 1999 Tentang Partai Politik". Retrieved 30 October 2006.
  8. "Undang-Undang RI No 22 Tahun 1999 Tentang Pemerintahan Daerah". Archived from the original on 4 July 2006. Retrieved 31 October 2006.
  9. Kearney, Marianne. "Waiting for democracy's dividend," AlJazeera (English), 19 May 2008
  10. Barton (2002), p. 290.
  11. Miller, Michelle. Rebellion and Reform in Indonesia. Jakarta's Security and Autonomy Policies in Aceh (London: Routledge, 2008), pp.66-68. ISBN 978-0-415-45467-4
  12. Conceicao, J.F (2005). Indonesia's Six Years of Living Dangerously. Singapore: Horizon Books. pp. 30–31. ISBN 981-05-2307-6.
  13. Barton, pages 293
  14. Barton (2002), page 340
  15. ryi/wis/sal (14 April 2000). "Dari Secangkir Kopi ke Hawa Nafsu". Kompas. Retrieved 30 December 2006.
  16. Conceicao, J.F (2005). Indonesia's Six Years of Living Dangerously. Singapore: Horizon Books. p. 21. ISBN 981-05-2307-6.
  17. Barton (2002), page 306
  18. Barton (2002), page 304
  19. Barton (2002), page 345
  20. Chang, Yau Hoon (April 2004). "How to be Chinese". Inside Indonesia. Retrieved 31 December 2006.
  21. Barton (2002), page 352
  22. Barton (2002), page 348
  23. Barton (2002), pages 351-352
  24. Barton (2002), page 363
  25. Mydans, Seth (24 July 2001), "Woman in the News; A Daughter of Destiny; Megawati Sukarnoputri", The New York Times
  27. "Bali bombs 'were suicide attacks'". BBC News. 2 October 2005. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  28. [ekonomi-nasional] [Kilas Berita] Pertumbuhan Ekonomi 2005 5,6 Persen
  29. Seputar Ekonomi
  31. "Inflasi Indonesia Menurut Kelompok Komoditi, 2006, 2007, Jan-Mei 2008 (2002=100), Juni - Desember 2008 (2007=100), 2009, 2010, 2011 (2007=100)". Badan Pusat Statistik.
  32. :: - berita utama ::
  33. Redaksi Tempo (24–30 October 2005). SBY-JK Duet Atau Duel: Edisi Khusus Setahun Pemerintahan SBY-JK. Jakarta, Indonesia. p. 90.


Further reading

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