home       biography       publications       speeches       organisations       images       @contact

Indonesia's Democratic Transformation

Launch by Prof the Hon Gareth Evans, Chancellor, of Harold Crouch, Political Reform in Indonesia after Soeharto and Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner (eds) Problems of Democratisation in Indonesia, College of Asia Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra, 26 August 2010

It’s a pleasure and privilege for me to launch these two books, the publication of which will do much to consolidate ANU’s already stellar reputation, domestically and internationally, as the centre of Indonesia research, not just in Australia but (with maybe a little competition from Leiden and Cornell) globally as well.

Both books cover the democratisation and political reform process as it has evolved – triumphs, warts and all – since the late 1990s, and it’s an incredibly important story to tell, not least for an Australian audience.

One of the many enduring mysteries of Australian public policy to me is why Indonesia simply hasn’t (with only a few honourable exceptions) attracted the same level of attention, understanding, and sustained high level commitment from our political leaders that other Asian countries have received, and which it so manifestly deserves. We all know how political, press and public preoccupation has been almost wholly dominated over the years irritants and negatives like East Timor, Bali bombers, drug smugglers, and boat people.

As Bruce Grant and I wrote back in 1995 in our book on Australia’s Foreign Relations:

Australia…has always acknowledged the importance of Indonesia, but developed more substantial links in SEA with Singapore and Malaysia. Economically the focus was overwhelmingly on Japan. After 1972 Australia’s enthusiasm was directed towards establishing a substantial political and economic relationship with China…The relations that we went out of our way to cultivate in Asia always seemed to be with other countries.

If I were writing that now, I’m not sure that I’d be able to say anything very different – except to add India as yet another major Asian player, other than Indonesia, with whom we have developed in recent years a serious national propensity to engage.

As newly minted foreign ministers together in 1988, Ali Alatas and I pledged to add ballast to a relationship which until then had conspicuously lacked it, and I think in a number of ways we succeeded, not only in strengthening some bilateral filaments, but especially in the diplomacy we did together on Cambodia and the development of regional economic and security architecture.

But if you look for that ballast today you have to work hard to find it. One example of what I am concerned about is overseas student enrolments at all levels in Australia. As our next door neighbour and with an increasingly outward looking population of over 240 million one would have thought Indonesia would rank very high, and be the subject of a huge amount of offshore recruitment activity: but last year saw Indonesian students commencements at just 2.5% of the national total, ranking not only after China and India, but Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Malaysia – and Brazil as well!

I suspect that a big part of the reason why a multi-dimensional relationship hasn’t really taken off, at least on the Australian side, is that old stereotypical habits of thinking about Indonesia haven’t really changed very much – and that it is still thought of as military-dominated, authoritarian, undemocratic, and with an exotic institutional-governance culture about as unfamiliar and unrecognisable in an Australia context as a Balinese funeral.

What these two excellent books do, in their different ways, is wrench these perspectives into a new shape, and show – without neglecting or downplaying the many problems that remain - just how much fundamental transformation has occurred in Indonesian governance over the last decade or so, and how much more recognisable, and attractive to our eyes and ears, that institutional culture has become. I just wish they both have a larger non-specialist readership than, realistically, they are likely to attract, and hope at least that the authors and editors will make some serious effort to articulate the basic themes to a wider audience in the form of op eds, radio discussions and the like.

Edward Aspinall’s and Marcus Mietzner’s edited collection, Problems of Democratisation in Indonesia, brings together the contributions to ANU’s October 2009 Indonesia Update Conference, and I want to congratulate at the outset the editors and the publisher, Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian studies, both for the speed with which they have brought this to press and for the real professional excellence of the editing, including on such basic but often neglected issues as the sequencing and integration of the disparate contributions, and the uniformity of heading styles, which makes for a really coherent and impressive final product.

A very important contribution of this book is to put Indonesia’s democratic achievement into comparative perspective, and help us appreciate just what a breathtaking transformation has occurred, as under-noticed as it has largely been by scholars and policymakers elsewhere. Larry Diamond’s chapter, drawing both on Freedom House’s and his own close analysis, makes clear just how far Indonesia has come both absolutely and certainly by comparison with other developing countries (including in its own region Thailand and the Philippines, which have gone backward over the same period).

A particularly interesting counterpoint to this macro analysis, is Sidney Jones’s case study – brilliantly done, like all her work (we regard her at the International Crisis Group as a living national treasure, and I think most of the world’s best intelligence analysts regard her that way too) – of functioning national democracy successfully at work at the micro local level in Morotai (which is about as far off the beaten track as you can get in the archipelago: as Sidney reminds us, this was the place where the last Japanese soldier stumbled out of the forest in 1974 to learn that the war was over…).

The world’s third biggest functioning democracy still has some real problems, which some argue go to the heart of its claim to democratic credentials – including rule of law enforcement, and corruption (with the recent departure of Sri Mulyani from the ministry being unhappy confirmation that all remains by no means well), but for the most part – as the chapters of this book make clear from different perspectives – the trends on these issues remain positive, and encouraging.

Harold Crouch’s book, Political Reform in Indonesia after Soeharto, again excellently presented by the same publisher, is a meticulously researched and immensely thorough analysis of the reform movement that has occurred since 1998 in six key areas. Overlapping, but wider in its reach than the edited collection, it addresses not only the formal political structure and processes, but decentralisation, military reform, the judiciary, and the resolution of two major regional crises, in Aceh and Maluku.

Harold’s basic object is to explain how such far-reaching changes as occurred – and in a number of cases, particularly in relation to the democratic institutions and regional devolution, they were very far-reaching indeed – could have been implemented in circumstances as unpromising as those that faced would-be reformers at the time of the financial crash and in trying to pick up the pieces afterward. His explanations include the role of the economic collapse in lifting the lid on previously repressed political opposition; the fragmentation of political forces, which encouraged them to find an institutional framework in which they could all operate; and the leadership of a variety of key figures whose interests – like Habibie’s in retaining personal legitimacy, or Wiranto’s in retaining military influence in a hostile post-New Order environment – led them to embrace reforms which they would have previously had difficulty in accepting.

There is no-one alive, I think I can confidently say, with a more comprehensive store of knowledge about the Indonesian political system than Harold Crouch – or one accumulated over a longer time, or from a more diverse range of sources. (I was delighted in this respect to see the acknowledgement in his Preface of the value he had gained from Mahlil Harahap of ICG – a very bright young man who we employed not as a PhD laden research analyst, but as a driver and go-fer!)

His writing, as always is complex and subtle, and his book immensely rewarding for any painstaking reader. From long and happy acquaintance with him over quite a few decades now, and a particularly engaged relationship with him as head of the International Crisis Group office in Jakarta for two years, I can say with total confidence that Harold Crouch is as totally and profoundly incapable of making an uninformed or unbalanced judgement about Indonesia, as he is of maintaining a tidy office and keeping coherent accounts…

These are both really outstanding books, with which ANU is very proud to be associated, and I hope and expect they will have a very long shelf-life and citation-life indeed. I congratulate the authors, editor and publisher again on their splendid achievement, and declare them duly launched.