Post-Suharto Indonesia - Democratization Against the Odds?

After 300 years under Dutch Colonial rule and 32 years of military rule, Indonesia is – against all odds – now trying its hand at democratic rule. Fragile at best, this nascent democracy will need to pull together groups from varying religions, ethnicity, and political ideologies. Some pundits believe that democracy can survive in an economy still reeling from the Asian economic crisis of 1997. Others believe that the divisions plaguing Indonesia make democracy all but impossible. Professor Douglas Webber takes up the debate in this recent case, providing a succinct overview of Indonesia’s history and offering a basis for understanding the current political and economic climate.

by Douglas Webber

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” This funny twist of words, attributed to Irwin Corey, could well sum up the political and economic situation facing Indonesia today. The question remains, “Can Indonesia become a stable democracy?” If not, where is it going?

In this recent case, Douglas Webber, Professor of Political Sciences, provides a succinct overview of the political, religious, and social history of the nation, outlining the forces that created current-day Indonesia and by extension, its current economic situation.

He starts the case with the July 2001 ousting of the country’s president, Abdurrahman Wahid, in favour of Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president and co-founder of the independent state. Megawati, who had had only limited political experience, inherits a country that is still reeling from the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which sparked a period of extreme economic and political turbulence, leading to the collapse of the 32-year authoritarian regime of former army general, Suharto.

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