20 years after Soeharto

 

This month marks 20 years since the collapse of former President Soeharto’s New Order regime. During his 32 years in power, Soeharto turned Indonesia’s economy around. Soeharto delivered rapid economic growth for decades, greatly reduced poverty and expanded education. But his rule is mainly remembered for rigged elections, interference in the courts, restrictions on freedom of association and expression, crackdowns on dissidents and separatist movements in East Timor, Aceh and Papua, the violent repression of communists that brought him to power, and the rampant corruption that led his regime to collapse after the Asian Economic Crisis hit in 1997.

 

Following the fall of Soeharto, Indonesia embarked on a major process of reform. Its Constitution was amended incrementally between 1999 and 2002, involving the insertion of a new chapter on human rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Restrictions on freedom of expression and association were lifted and as a result Indonesia now boasts a strong civil society sector and the freest media in the region. The military withdrew from politics. Elections are free and fair – although there are still concerns about “money politics” in some regions, and elected representatives are only rarely accountable to their constituents.

 

The record of reform in other institutions, such as the police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the state bureaucracy, is far less impressive. Corruption is still a massive problem, perhaps even increasing. Civil society activists are also concerned about growing restrictions on freedom of association and an increase in discrimination and attacks on minority groups.

The experts speak

To mark 20 years since the fall of Soeharto, Indonesia at Melbourne is publishing a range of pieces reflecting on the past two decades of reform and what lies ahead for Indonesia. First up, Professor Tim Lindsey presents a general overview of Indonesia post-Soeharto and reflects on recent developments suggesting its commitment to liberal democracy is faltering. Uncertainty about where Indonesia is heading, he writes, could have major implications for the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

 

Next, Rifqi Assegaf, PhD candidate and one of the architects of the Supreme Court blueprint for reform,  offers an excellent account of what has been achieved in judicial reform and what still needs to be done.

 

Dr Jemma Purdey reflects on the swell of anti-Chinese sentiment that occurred in early 1998, culminating in the horrific riots and violence of 12-15 May. In light of a recent surge in anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia, could such violence happen again?

 

One of the defining features of the Soeharto era was the privileges afforded to a small number of favoured business tycoons. Professor Howard Dick and Jeremy Mulholland look at what has happened to these cronies and, more broadly, the relationship between power and capital, over the past 20 years.

 

In addition to a small group of favoured businessmen, the Soeharto children were granted monopolies and other benefits, allowing them to amass large fortunes. Dr Helen Pausacker writes that in the 20 years since their father stepped down, the Soeharto children may have seen their influence decline but they continue to live prosperous lives and have in fact acquired further wealth.

 

Indonesian artists have enjoyed major commercial success in the regional and international art scenes since the fall of the New Order. Dr Wulan Dirgantoro reflects on the Indonesian visual arts scene post-Soeharto, and the challenges involved with the contemporary arts boom.

 

The Talking Indonesia podcast also focuses on Indonesia after Soeharto. Dr Dave McRae presents a fascinating discussion with Amnesty International Indonesia Director Usman Hamid, in which Usman reflects on his time as a student activist and highlights the key achievements of the past 20 years.

 

Dr Jemma Purdey chats to Galuh Wandita, the director of director and co-founder of Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), about how Indonesia is reckoning with the violence of the New Order, 20 years after its collapse.

Q&A

We have also asked some prominent public figures to answer a set of questions about their own experiences of post-Soeharto Indonesia:

We will continue to add to this list over the coming weeks.