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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Indonesia before and during the 1990s was plagued with corruption, riots, and a military authoritarianism regime that eventually transitioned to a presidential representative democratic republic. Before the regime changed, the New Order, led by President/authoritarian leader General Hajji Suharto, strived for economic development and political order through heavy military influences and factions, suppression of political opponents, and oppressive political ideologies. President Suharto, with the aid of his military faction Dwifungsi, was able to control the government and society through appointing 70% of government with military officers, removing and murdering those who challenged his position in office, and aligning himself with a military political party and creating secret police. However, during the 1990s,  significant events such as the West’s concern on Communism/Santa Cruz Massacre (1991), the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the rise of the Indonesian Democratic Party, the Indonesian Riots in 1998, and the political reform and first free election held by President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie. These events led to the weakening and breakdown of military authoritarianism and the rise of democracy in Indonesia from 1998 to present.

The end of the military authoritarian regime was caused by several key structural factors that weakened the regime and pushed it towards democracy. One of the biggest external factors and the reasons why the Indonesian military was weakened was because of the Santa Cruz Massacre in 1991. The Indonesians were occupying East Timor during that time when pro-liberalzationers wanted to hold a demonstration including journalists who supported independence. The goal was to bring attention to the oppression and occupation of the Indonesian military and independence for East Timor. Indonesian soldiers fired on pro-liberalizers with multiple stabbings which was caught on tape and broadcasted by two American journalists. Because of the massacre, organizations around the globe were publicly denouncing the Indonesian government and pouring support into the pro-democracy movements in Indonesia. The New Order was being openly scrutinized and the US government cut program funding for the International Military Education and Training which severely cut any allegiance with the US and Indonesia in 1999. This massacre brought light to the corruption of the Indonesian military and President Suharto and encouraged a global denouncing of the authoritarian regime and an influence of support for democratization in the state. These massacres were a necessary and immediate trigger to the ratified transition to a democracy because of diminishing strength of the military. The massacre may have triggered several other riots within the state, but was a single contributing factor towards democracy.

President Suharto’s regime also suffered drastically and increased the shift to democracy due to an external choice factor within the state. In 1997, the Asian Financial Crisis created the demise of the Rupiah and severe inflation. Many companies within the state took out loans with US dollar currency. However, because of the decrease in value of the Rupiah, companies and banks were unable to pay back the debt and became bankrupt. In response, the Indonesian banks, owned privately by President Suharto, tried to manage the crisis leading to zero capital in the Indonesian government’s funds for foreign investments. Large amounts of capital was being used to avert the economic crisis. In exchange for alleviation from the US, President Suharto had to close personal banks owned by his family. The crisis destroyed state confidence in their authoritarian government and increased the pressure from the US for the president to resign. President Suharto’s legitimacy as a leader dwindled and increased the push towards a new president which would later lead to democratization of Indonesia. This financial crisis was one of the great influences towards the Indonesian riots. The lack of a strong economy and efforts by the government created a tide of upset and corruption within the state and was the main catalyst and trigger in the violence that persisted. Without the crisis, these riots may not have even materialized.

An internal choice factor that was sufficient enough to steer the move towards a democracy was the Indonesian Riots of May 1998. The riots started because of economic financial crisis and ethnic conflicts arising in the state. These riots led to President Suharto stepping down and President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie to take office, leading to the liberalization and democratization of Indonesia. In 1996, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) base was raided by the military and the public because of the election of former President Sukarno’s daughter which was seen as a factor that could lead to the demise of the New Order because of the polarity of ideologies between the president and his preceder. Originally, the PDI was a small coalition of other small parties, but it soon began to generate support and intimidate the leadership of President Suharto’s political party pre-1997 election. The election was plagued with corruption which awarded President Suharto’s the majority causing backlash over the demand for a democratic election, creating a strong push towards Indonesia becoming a democracy. Violent demonstrations began arising across university campuses resulting in deaths and assaults by the hands of police forces. Protestors at Trisakti University and Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta were shot at leading to mobs of violent attacks against the government. Conflicts between the ethnic groups Dayak and Madurese led to military intervention. However, post-riots, President Suharto’s military influence diminished due to internal conflicts over who would precede the president which led to even more weakening of military collaboration within the government and the authoritative regime. The obvious lack of support for President Suharto, especially in his handling of the riots and violation of human freedoms, led to his resignation and the emergence of democracy within the new regime. Censorship was a large contributing factor to the public’s desire for democracy.

The biggest internal, immediate structural factor that was the necessary cause which led to Indonesia becoming a democracy was the resigning of President Suharto and the inauguration of President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie. Without the riots, the financial crisis, and the Santa Cruz Massacre, there would not have been enough factors to alleviate authority in the state and create a pathway towards liberalization. President Habibie was the leading reason why Indonesia became a presidential representative democratic republic. During his presidency, he abolished the heavy censorship and reformed political rules. Regarding the occupation of East Timor, he allowed independence and United Nation’s involvement in the state to eradicate violence since the riots. He also established a task team that investigated Former President Suharto. The president focused on improving the economy, education, and freedom of speech as well as passed laws that ended control over political parties. The military became less influential in the government under his control, and the era of free and fair elections began. The New Order ended and democracy reigned at the 1999 election. Before, only two political parties were allowed in elections. With the new regime, over 40 parties contributed to the first free election. The Proportional Representation electoral voting system was used allowing the Indonesian Democratic Party to hold the majority of the seats.

These structural and choice factors led to the democratization, but more importantly the breakdown of military authoritarian regime from the 1990s to present day Indonesia. Considering the fresh transition to democracy in Indonesia within the last 20 years, it would be too soon to predict the consolidation of the democracy. In order to establish a consolidated democracy, there needs to be a period of time within the state that demonstrates legitimacy of the new regime change, such as a history of specific events that  demonstrate evident perversion to authoritarianism. A consolidated democracy also needs to have a period of free elections, survival of threats, and an adherence to the laws implemented during the time of democratic reign. The legitimacy of a state is based off of the definition of John Locke’s belief that being legitimate means people have the freedom to act without outside interference inhibiting the desires of another. However, there are factors that can contribute to the perseverance of the democratic government. These factors include free and fair elections, freedom of speech, freedom of arbitrary rule, and military political-noninterference. Indonesia’s colorful political history satisfies the factors of a breakdown. “Transitions from below” involving “mass resistance to the non-democracy” demonstrate breakdowns of non-democratic systems. From the Indonesian Riots in 1998, the ethnic conflicts, and the global resistance to Indonesia’s regime, to the Santa Cruz Massacre violent protests in the universities and emergence of pro-democratic leaders, Indonesia’s authoritarian regime breakdown was caused by rebellions against the regime. Democracy was then established because of the resignation of President Suharto and the 1999 elections.

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