Since the proclamation of independence on August 17, 1945, the country has continuously sought to establish a strong democratic society – the struggle that persists today. In general, the country’s political history starting from the second half of the 20th century up until today, is divided into three periods, namely the old, the new, and the reform orders. During the former era, Indonesians, under the leadership of its first president Sukarno initially sought to build constitutional democracy. Yet, later this orientation was changed to guided democracy, which granted the president powers over other branches. Therefore, Sukarno’s rule soon turned from liberal democracy to autocracy. As a result, he was overthrown by a military leader Suharto, who first attempted to guarantee liberal rights and freedoms, but consequently became a dictator, therefore, destroying all the remaining democratic mechanisms.
After Suharto resigned from his position on May 21, 1998, the country entered a new era of freedom and democracy. However, although there was a lot of progress made in this direction, there are still a lot of issues to resolve. For this reason, the current essay will firstly briefly discuss the concept of democracy in general and, secondly, analyze the state of democracy in Indonesia during the post-Suharto era in more detail.
The Concept of Democracy
In short, democracy implies that the people of a certain territorial entity have the authority and rights to elect government officials and/or collectively deliver decisions concerning legislature. Although the first democratic societies existed already in ancient times, the principles of this concept evolved over time. In this regard, the original form of democracy was direct democracy, where members of certain political entities delivered decisions collectively on each important issue. Yet, as the nation-states started occupying extensive territories and included more people with voting rights, the latter form was substituted by representative democracy, where citizens chose agents who delivered decisions in their stead. Moreover, many types of democracies appeared, such as presidential, parliamentary, and one-party systems. Nevertheless, despite different approaches to the concept exists, the democratic rule usually ensures voting rights, freedom of speech, gathering and forming associations, and equality of its citizens.
Democracy in Post-Suharto Era
As was mentioned above, after Suharto’s resignation from the post of president of the country, Indonesia experienced great democratization of society. For instance, just five years after Suharto left office, Indonesia saw the change of three presidents who were elected democratically through elections. Additionally, the country has witnessed greater protection of human rights and freedom of expression and information and more equality between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of power. Moreover, minority groups that were predominantly ‘voiceless’ during Suharto’s presidency have enjoyed better opportunities to express their opinion and therefore influence the political agenda.
However, the country’s democratic institutions are still not well-established and are susceptible to power abuse and restoration of tyrannical rule. For example, some politicians who currently occupy leading positions developed their careers during the presidency of Suharto and thus may not have well-shaped democratic culture. Furthermore, Indonesia faces other challenges that deter democratic institutions from reaching their full potential. They include problems with law enforcement, lack of trust in the central and local government by citizens, and ‘the democratic maturity of voters, to name a few major issues. For this reason, it can be concluded that currently, Indonesia is only taking the first step toward building a free and equal society, and thus great efforts to ensure further development should still be made.
Overall, the current paper briefly discussed the concept of democracy and analyzed Indonesia’s progress in building a free and equal nation during the post-Suharto era. As for the former, it was noted that democracy is the form of governance where citizens deliver decisions concerning the country’s future through voting. As for the latter, it was found that currently, Indonesia is making efforts to build a strong democratic society. However, it is noted that the country still faces a lot of challenges that should be resolved to ensure further development.