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Indonesia History

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By the time of the Renaissance, the islands of Java and Sumatra had already enjoyed a 1,000-year heritage of advanced civilization spanning two major empires. During the 7th-14th centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. At its peak, the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as West Java and the Malay Peninsula. Also by the 14th century, the Hindu Kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gadjah Mada, the empire's chief minister from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now modern Indonesia and much of the Malay archipelago as well. Legacies from Gadjah Mada's time include a codification of law and an epic poem. Islam arrived in Indonesia sometime during the 12th century and, through assimilation, supplanted Hinduism by the end of the 16th century in Java and Sumatra. Bali, however, remains overwhelmingly Hindu. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic proselytizing took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, and, currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands.

Beginning in 1602, the Dutch slowly established themselves as rulers of Indonesia, exploiting the weakness of the small kingdoms that had replaced that of Majapahit. The only exception was East Timor, which remained under Portugal's control until 1975. During 300 years of rule, the Dutch developed the Netherlands East Indies into one of the world's richest colonial possessions.

During the first decade of the 20th century, an Indonesian independence movement began and expanded rapidly, particularly between the two World Wars. Its leaders came from a small group of young professionals and students, some of whom had been educated in the Netherlands. Many, including Indonesia's first president, Soekarno (1945-67), were imprisoned for political activities.

The Japanese occupied Indonesia for three years during World War II (1942-1945). On August 17, 1945, three days after the Japanese surrender to the Allies, a small group of Indonesians, led by Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta, proclaimed independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. They set up a provisional government and adopted a constitution to govern the republic until elections could be held and a new constitution written. Dutch efforts to reestablish complete control met strong resistance. After four years of warfare and negotiations, the Dutch transferred sovereignty to a federal Indonesian Government. In 1950, Indonesia became the 60th member of the United Nations.

Shortly after hostilities with the Dutch ended in 1949, Indonesia adopted a new constitution, providing for a parliamentary system of government in which the executive was chosen by and accountable to parliament. Parliament was divided among many political parties before and after the country's first nationwide election in 1955, and stable governmental coalitions were difficult to achieve. The role of Islam in Indonesia became a divisive issue. Soekarno defended a secular state based on Pancasila, five principles of the state philosophy--monotheism, humanitarianism, national unity, representative democracy by consensus, and social justice--codified in the 1945 constitution, while some Muslim groups preferred either an Islamic state or a constitution that included a preambular provision requiring adherents of Islam to be subject to Islamic law. At the time of independence, the Dutch retained control over the western half of New Guinea (known as Irian Jaya in the Soekarno and Suharto eras and as Papua since 2000) and permitted steps toward self-government and independence.

Negotiations with the Dutch on the incorporation of Irian Jaya into Indonesia failed, and armed clashes broke out between Indonesian and Dutch troops in 1961. In August 1962, the two sides reached an agreement, and Indonesia assumed administrative responsibility for Irian Jaya on May 1, 1963. The Indonesian Government conducted an "Act of Free Choice" in Irian Jaya under UN supervision in 1969 in which 1,025 Papuan representatives of local councils agreed by consensus to remain a part of Indonesia. A subsequent UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia. Opposition to Indonesian administration of Papua gave rise to small-scale guerrilla activity in the years following Jakarta's assumption of control. In the more open atmosphere since 1998, there have been more explicit expressions within Papua calling for independence from Indonesia.

Unsuccessful rebellions on Sumatra, Sulawesi, West Java, and other islands beginning in 1958, plus a failure by the constituent assembly to develop a new constitution, weakened the parliamentary system. Consequently, in 1959, when President Soekarno unilaterally revived the provisional 1945 constitution that provided for broad presidential powers, he met little resistance. From 1959 to 1965, President Soekarno imposed an authoritarian regime under the label of "Guided Democracy." He also moved Indonesia's foreign policy toward nonalignment, a foreign policy stance supported by other prominent leaders of former colonies who rejected formal alliances with either the West or Soviet bloc. Under Soekarno's auspices, these leaders gathered in Bandung, West Java, in 1955 to lay the groundwork for what became known as the Non-Aligned Movement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, President Soekarno moved closer to Asian communist states and toward the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in domestic affairs. Though the PKI represented the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China, its mass support base never demonstrated an ideological adherence typical of communist parties in other countries.

By 1965, the PKI controlled many of the mass civic and cultural organizations that Soekarno had established to mobilize support for his regime and, with Soekarno's acquiescence, embarked on a campaign to establish a "Fifth Column" by arming its supporters. Army leaders resisted this campaign. Under circumstances that have never been fully explained, on October 1, 1965, PKI sympathizers within the military, including elements from Soekarno's palace guard, occupied key locations in Jakarta and kidnapped and murdered six senior generals. Major General Suharto, the commander of the Army Strategic Reserve, rallied army troops opposed to the PKI to reestablish control over the city. Violence swept throughout Indonesia in the aftermath of the October 1 events, and unsettled conditions persisted through 1966. Right-wing gangs killed tens of thousands of alleged communists in rural areas. Estimates of the number of deaths range between 160,000 and 500,000. The violence was especially brutal in Java and Bali. During this period, PKI members by the tens of thousands turned in their membership cards. The emotions and fears of instability created by this crisis persisted for many years as the communist party remains banned from Indonesia.

Throughout the 1965-66 period, President Soekarno vainly attempted to restore his political stature and shift the country back to its pre-October 1965 position. Although he remained President, in March 1966, Soekarno transferred key political and military powers to General Suharto, who by that time had become head of the armed forces. In March 1967, the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) named General Suharto acting President. Soekarno ceased to be a political force and lived under virtual house arrest until his death in 1970.

President Suharto proclaimed a "New Order" in Indonesian politics and dramatically shifted foreign and domestic policies away from the course set in Soekarno's final years. The New Order established economic rehabilitation and development as its primary goals and pursued its policies through an administrative structure dominated by the military but with advice from Western-educated economic experts. In 1968, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) formally selected Suharto to a full five-year term as President, and he was reelected to successive five-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998. In mid-1997, Indonesia suffered from the Asian financial and economic crisis, accompanied by the worst drought in 50 years and falling prices for oil, gas, and other commodity exports. As the exchange rate changed from a fixed to a managed float to fully floating, the rupiah (IDR or Rp) depreciated in value, inflation increased significantly, and capital flight accelerated. Demonstrators, initially led by students, called for Suharto's resignation. Amid widespread civil unrest, Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998, three months after the MPR had selected him for a seventh term. Suharto's hand-picked Vice President, B.J. Habibie, became Indonesia's third President. President Habibie reestablished International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor community support for an economic stabilization program. He released several prominent political and labor prisoners, initiated investigations into the unrest, and lifted controls on the press, political parties, and labor unions.

In January 1999, Habibie and the Indonesian Government agreed to a process, with UN involvement, under which the people of East Timor would be allowed to choose between autonomy and independence through a direct ballot held on August 30, 1999. Some 98% of registered voters cast their ballots, and 78.5% of the voters chose independence over continued integration with Indonesia. Many people were killed by Indonesian military forces and military-backed militias in a wave of violence and destruction after the announcement of the pro-independence vote.

Indonesia's first elections in the post-Suharto period were held for the national, provincial, and sub-provincial parliaments on June 7, 1999. Forty-eight political parties participated in the elections. For the national parliament, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri) won 34% of the vote; Golkar ("Functional Groups" party) 22%; Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party, linked to the conservative Islamic organization Nadhlatul Ulama headed by former President Abdurrahman Wahid) 13%; and Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party, led by Hamzah Haz) 11%. The MPR selected Abdurrahman Wahid as Indonesia's fourth President in November 1999 and replaced him with Megawati Sukarnoputri in July 2001.

The constitution, as amended in the post-Suharto era, provides for the direct election by popular vote of the president and vice president. Under the 2004 amendment, only parties or coalitions of parties that gained at least 3% of the House of Representatives (DPR) seats or 5% of the vote in national legislative elections were eligible to nominate a presidential and vice presidential ticket.

The 2004 legislative elections took place on April 5 and were considered to be generally free and fair. Twenty-four parties took part in the elections. Big parties lost ground, while small parties gained larger shares of the vote. However, the two Suharto-era nationalist parties, PDI-P and Golkar, remained in the lead. PDI-P (opposition party during the Suharto era) lost its plurality in the House of Representatives, dropping from 33% to 18.5% of the total vote (and from 33% to 20% of the seats). The Golkar Party (Suharto’s political party) declined slightly from 1999 levels, going from 22% to 21% of the national vote (from 26% to 23% of DPR seats). The third- and fourth-largest parties (by vote share) were two Islamic-oriented parties, the United Development Party (PPP) (8% of the votes, 10.5% of the seats) and National Awakening Party (PKB) (10.5% of the vote, 9.45% of the seats). Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s nationalist Democratic Party (PD) won 7.45% of the national vote and 10% of the DPR seats, making it the fourth-largest party in the DPR. Seven of the 24 parties won no DPR seats; six won 1-2 seats, and the other six won between 2%-6% of the national vote (between 5-52 DPR seats).

The first direct presidential election was held on July 5, 2004, contested by five tickets. As no candidate won at least 50% of the vote, a runoff election was held on September 20, 2004, between the top two candidates, President Megawati Sukarnoputri and retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In this final round, Yudhoyono won 60.6% of the vote. Approximately 76.6% of the eligible voters participated, a total of roughly 117 million people, making Indonesia's presidential election the largest single-day election in the world. The Carter Center, which sent a delegation of election observers, issued a statement congratulating "the people and leaders of Indonesia for the successful conduct of the presidential election and the peaceful atmosphere that has prevailed throughout the ongoing democratic transition."

In 2009, national legislative elections were held on April 9 and presidential elections were held in July. They were peaceful and considered free and fair. New electoral rules required that a party win 2.5% of the national vote in order to enter parliament. A total of thirty-eight national and six local (Aceh only) parties contested the 2009 legislative elections. At least 171 million voters registered to vote in these elections. Voter turnout was estimated to be 71% of the electorate. Nine parties won parliamentary seats in the House of Representatives (DPR). The top three winners were secular nationalist parties: President Yudhoyono’s Partai Demokrat, with 20.85% of the vote; Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s Golkar Party, 14.45%; and former president Megawati’s opposition PDI-P party, with 14.03%. The next four largest parties were all Islamic-oriented parties: PKS, PAN (6%), PPP (5.3%), and PKB (4.9%). Only PKS maintained its 2004 vote share (7.88%); the other three declined significantly in popularity. The smallest two parties in Parliament, Gerindra and Hanura, with 4.46 and 3.77% of the vote respectively, are run by retired Suharto-era army generals Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto (one name only). The 2009 DPR members took their seats October 1.

Also in 2009, the threshold was revised so that only parties or coalitions of parties that gained at least 20% of the House of Representatives (DPR) seats or 25% of the vote in the 2009 national legislative elections would be eligible to nominate a presidential and vice presidential ticket. Partai Demokrat, Golkar, and PDI-P parties, the top winners in the legislative elections, nominated presidential candidates. To win in one round, a presidential candidate was required to receive more than 50% of the vote and more than 20% of the vote in 17 of Indonesia’s 33 provinces. If no candidate did so, the top two candidates would have competed in a second round in September 2009.

Three tickets competed in the presidential elections. Incumbent President Yudhoyono and his running mate, non-partisan former Central Bank Chair and Economics Minister Boediono, won the election with such a significant plurality--60.6%--that it obviated the need for a second round of elections. Main challenger and former president and opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and running mate Prabowo Subianto trailed with 28%. Meanwhile, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and running mate Wiranto came in last at 12.7%. Indonesia’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) inaugurated President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his second term as president on October 20, 2009.

Natural disasters have devastated many parts of Indonesia over the past few years. On December 26, 2004, a 9.1 to 9.3 magnitude earthquake took place in the Indian Ocean, and the resulting tsunami killed over 130,000 people in Aceh and left more than 500,000 homeless. On March 26, 2005, an 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck between Aceh and northern Sumatra, killing 905 people and displacing tens of thousands. After much media attention on the seismic activity on Mt. Merapi in April and May 2006, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake occurred 30 miles to the southwest. It killed more than 5,000 people and left an estimated 200,000 people homeless in the Yogyakarta region. An earthquake of 7.4 struck Tasikmalaya, West Java, on September 2, 2009, killing approximately 100 people. On September 30, 2009, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Western Sumatra. There have been no official statistics released on deaths and injuries; however, press reports indicated more than 1,100 fatalities.


Information by U.S. Department of State




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