Indonesia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Indonesia's political rights rating improved from 3 to 2, its civil liberties rating from 4 to 3, and its status from Partly Free to Free, due to peaceful and mostly free elections for newly empowered regional leaders, an orderly transition to a newly elected president that further consolidated the democratic political process, and the emergence of a peace settlement between the government and the Free Aceh movement.


Indonesia continued to move toward democratic consolidation in 2005. Following the largely successful 2004 presidential and legislative elections, nationwide direct local elections were held in 2005, with relatively limited instances of localized (though often still substantial) violence. In his second year as president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known as SBY) earned marks for making serious, if cautious and inconsistent, efforts to fight corruption and to reform the political system. On another front, Indonesia's insurgency-plagued Aceh province in northern Sumatra was hit by a devastating tsunami in December 2004. Cooperation between government troops and insurgents evolved into ceasefire negotiations, and in August 2005, Indonesia signed a peace agreement with Acehnese separatists.

Indonesia won full independence in 1949 following a four-year, intermittent war against its Dutch colonial rulers. After several parliamentary governments collapsed, the republic's first president, Sukarno, took on authoritarian powers in 1959 under a system that he called "Guided Democracy." Sukarno retained his political supremacy by balancing the country's two most powerful groups-the conservative Indonesian National Army (TNI) and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI)-against each other. This unstable political triad came apart in 1965, when the army, led by General Suharto, crushed an apparent coup attempt that it blamed on the PKI. In the aftermath, the TNI and its conservative Muslim allies engaged in mass acts of violence against suspected PKI members that ultimately left an estimated 500,000 dead. With the backing of the TNI, Suharto eased aside the populist Sukarno and formally became president in 1968.

Having eliminated the PKI, Suharto's "New Order" regime merged "old order" political parties into two easily controlled parties, and created the Golkar party based on bureaucratic and military interests. Heavily constrained and manipulated elections, held at five-year intervals, ensured that Golkar always won with impressive margins. During his 32 years in power, Suharto created a patrimonial political system that rewarded supporters-increasingly, family members-and punished opponents.

Suharto also embarked on an economic development program under which the Indonesian economy grew by an annual average of 7 percent for three decades; as a result, millions of Indonesians rose from poverty. In the 1990s, Suharto's children and cronies were the major beneficiaries of state privatization schemes and also often ran large business monopolies that operated with little oversight. When Indonesia was hit by the Asian financial crisis, which devalued the currency by more than 5,000 percent over six months, Suharto agreed to a $43-billion International Monetary Fund bailout in October 1997. In 1998, the country's economy shrank by 13.8 percent, the largest single-year contraction for any country since the Great Depression.

Soaring prices and rising unemployment led many Indonesians to demonstrate against the corruption, collusion, and nepotism of the Suharto regime. In the midst of devastating urban riots in May 1998, Suharto resigned. He was succeeded by Vice President B. J. Habibie, a long-time Suharto loyalist. Responding to the reformasi (proreform) movement and attempting to shore up his political legitimacy, Habibie removed legal constraints on the free functioning of the press, labor unions, and political parties.

In June 1999, Indonesia held its first free legislative elections since 1955. The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), led by Sukarno's daughter Sukarnoputri Megawati, won 154 of the 462 contested seats. Golkar won 120 seats. In October 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), consisting of members of the elected House of Representatives (DPR) and 195 appointed members, selected Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid as president and Megawati as vice president.

Hopes that the two reformist leaders-representing moderate Islam and Indonesian nationalism-could tackle Indonesia's deep-seated political, economic, and social issues went unfulfilled. Wahid's credentials as a democratic reformer and champion of religious freedom gave him opportunities to call for an end to an insurgency in Aceh and the deadly ethnic and sectarian violence raging in the Moluccas, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan-but he chose not to do so. Moreover, Wahid did little to revive the economy, and his administration was dogged by allegations of corruption. Facing impeachment charges, Wahid called on the armed forces to declare a state of emergency. The TNI refused, Wahid was impeached, and Megawati become president in July 2001.

Megawati generally is credited with stabilizing Indonesia's volatile post-1997 economy, which only returned to pre-crisis per capita income levels in 2004. However, critics charge that she failed to rein in corrupt elites, who drained economic resources and stunted political development. Many observers claim that corruption rose under Megawati, in part because government moves toward decentralization expanded local government powers without extending effective oversight to government activities.

Megawati's government faced perhaps its toughest challenges on the internal security front. The government took a tough line against Jemaah Islamiyah, a network of Islamic militants in Southeast Asia loosely linked to al-Qaeda, the terrorist network. Security forces arrested scores of suspected terrorists after the 2002 bombing on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people. A similar hard-line approach to the insurgencies in Aceh and Papua did not lead to peace. Voters punished Megawati for these perceived failures by giving the PDI-P less support in the April 2004 parliamentary elections, with many voters embracing the Democratic Party (PD), the electoral vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known as SBY), who had earlier resigned his position as Megawati's coordinating minister for political and security affairs. Electoral advances for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) largely reflect re-form-oriented voters' attraction to the party's anticorruption platform. In May 2004, the government lifted a year-old martial-law decree in Aceh, even as the military continued offensives against separatist rebels.

On September 20, 2004, SBY won 61 percent of the vote and claimed a mandate for change. While SBY earned marks for making serious, if cautious and inconsistent, efforts to fight corruption and reform the political system, SBY will need to overcome tensions and rivalries inside the government, as well as shifting political alliances, to implement his agenda. SBY's PD holds only 55 out of 550 seats, while the two other parties that formally support SBY command 111 votes. The People's Coalition, which will probably support the president most of the time, commands 233 seats. Perhaps the most intriguing postelection development involves SBY's relationship with his vice-president, Jusuf Kalla. Originally expelled from Golkar for supporting SBY in the 2004 elections, Kalla was readmitted to the party and elected to the party's leadership post. While the alliance between SBY and Golkar gives the president greater parliamentary strength, Kalla's prominence in the party has sparked speculation that he harbors his own presidential ambitions, and could soon break with the president to challenge SBY.

In December 2004, Indonesia's oil-rich, insurgency-plagued Aceh, a province of 4.6 million people in northern Sumatra, was hit by a devastating tsunami. The monster wave left nearly 169,000 dead or missing, and rendered over one half million people homeless. Estimates of property damage lie between $4.5 and $5 billion. The initial government response was plagued by inefficiency and press restrictions reminiscent of the pretransition order. Yet, in time, the international and national attention focused on the area began to produce unanticipated benefits. Although internal security concerns remained significant during the year, cooperation between government troops and insurgents evolved into ceasefire negotiations, and Indonesia signed a peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in August 2005. In December, the International Crisis Group reported that "The Aceh peace process is working beyond all expectations."

Still, following the tsunami, and perhaps in partial reaction to the billions of relief aid dollars that poured into the province in its aftermath, so-called Sharia police began to enforce elements of Sharia (Islamic) law; these "police" have been widely accused of arrogance, arbitrary harassment and illegal detention. Courts convicted several suspects in the 2002 Bali bombing, including Abu Bakar Bashir, the man suspected of serving as Jemaah Islamiyah's spiritual leader. Nevertheless, terrorism continued to be a substantial problem, as demonstrated by an October 2005 bombing in Bali that killed 27 people. Similar attacks, some apparently perpetrated by militant Islamist groups, and others related to communal conflict, have periodically occurred across Indonesia, including a high-profile case in which three girls were beheaded in Poso, Sulawesi, in November 2005. Still, in this case, as in the aftermath of a May 2005 bombing in Tentena, Central Sulawesi, security forces were quick to intervene to prevent the conflict from escalating. Many analysts say that the government must take the sensitive step of investigating the handful of Islamic boarding schools allegedly linked to Jemaah Islamiyah and further professionalizing intelligence operations.

While initially wary, investors began to direct capital back into Indonesia after SBY's electoral victory in 2004, and by early 2005, the Jakarta stock exchange had expanded by 20 percent. While this reinvestment is encouraging, corruption and a poor regulatory environment continue. Moreover, the country will feel the economic consequences of the 2004 tsunami for some time to come. Nevertheless, investor confidence seems to be improving, particularly after decisions such as the removal of fuel subsidies.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Indonesia can change their government democratically. In 2004, for the first time, Indonesians directly elected their president and all the members of the House of Representative (DPR), as well as representatives to a new legislative body, the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). (Before 2004, presidents were elected by the legislature, itself composed of a combination of elected and appointed officials.) The DPD is tasked with proposing, discussing, and monitoring laws related to regional autonomy. Presidents and vice presidents can serve up to two five-year terms. Legislators also serve five-year terms.

Beginning in June 2005, staggered, direct elections took place across Indonesia to select regional heads. While voter turnout (65 to 75 percent) was lower than in the previous year's national elections, the polls were generally considered to be free, fair, and relatively peaceful.

In 2004 and 2005, both new parties-such as the PD and the PKS-and established parties gained office. Still, some electoral rules favor larger, more established parties and may limit political access. For example, independent candidates cannot contest elections-candidates must be nominated by political parties-and voters choose parties, not candidates, in the voting booth. Parties, in turn, must prove they have a nationwide network of members and offices before they can make nominations. Parties that fail to win 3 percent of the vote are not allowed to contest future elections. Although from 2004 onward, the president will continue to be directly elected, beginning in 2009 the presidential candidate must be nominated by at least 15 percent of the members of parliament (the DPR). Similarly, since direct elections for provincial governors and regents began in 2005, candidates have needed 15 percent of the vote in local assemblies to secure a nomination.

The military formally withdrew from politics when it lost its 38 appointed seats in the MPR in 2004. However, the army also maintains a "territorial network" of soldiers in every district and village, which gives it influence at the local level. Discussions to disband the territorial structure were on the agenda early in the reformasi era, when the military was discredited because of its shooting of prodemocracy advocates and its links to Suharto. The military's stock in the eyes of the public increased, however, as a result of its decision to remain impartial during the Wahid impeachment process and because of the legitimacy Megawati bestowed upon it. The appointment to the post of defense minister of Juwono Sudarsono, a respected civilian who served in this position during the Wahid administration, is a positive sign. Juwono's efforts to ensure civilian control of the military by folding the TNI into the civilian-led Ministry of Defense became bogged down when only military personnel were deemed qualified to take up positions in the ministry. A key obstacle to civilian control over the military has long been the fact that the TNI receives only 30 percent of its funding from the state budget, relying on military-run charities and businesses for the bulk of its financing. Discussions to privatize military-run charities and businesses were revived in early 2005, but have so far yielded no action plan.

Corruption remains endemic in Indonesia, including throughout the judiciary. In 2003, the government created the Corruption Eradication Commission, a group of special prosecutors with the power to investigate any suspected misconduct involving government officials who are believed to have cost the state more than one billion rupiah, approximately $10,500. The government has no formal right to intervene with the work of this body. In 2005, election-related corruption came under closer scrutiny, with several high-ranking electoral officials indicted for graft. Most of these cases, however, involved profiteering on the distribution of election-re-lated paraphernalia, rather than vote buying. The charges were brought by the official Indonesian Corruption Watch, headed by veteran legal aid activist Tenten Madduki Marzduki, whose leadership in this area has drawn widespread praise. Still, even successful convictions of high-profile defendants-such as the 2005 corruption conviction of former Aceh governor Abdullah Puteh (sentenced to 10 years in jail)-have produced scandal; two court clerks active in the appeal in that case were arrested for taking bribes issued to further Puteh's defense. Indonesia was ranked 137 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The state of press freedom in Indonesia is mixed. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls Indonesia a success story because of the very low level of attacks on journalists in the country. Still, libel laws and political pressure make the media less free in what they can report and in how they frame their stories. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Aceh was closed to members of the foreign media, and government delegations visited local newspapers to express displeasure at their reporting on the Aceh situation-a move that in Indonesia has exceptionally intimidating overtones. Charges of criminal defamation are often leveled at journalists. Television station ownership and licensing rules are currently in a state of confusion. Until recently, Indonesian's 10 large private television stations (there is also a national government station) were owned by cronies of former President Suharto. New regulations adopted in 2003 aimed at diversifying broadcast media ownership by allowing licenses only at the provincial level. While the idea was to encourage diverse, small-scale television broadcasts, the regulations, by the end of 2005, were still extremely unclear and had not produced the intended diversification of media ownership. There are over 62,000 internet hosts in Indonesia and an estimated 8 million internet users. Indonesians of all faiths can generally worship freely in this predominantly Muslim nation, although officials monitor and have outlawed some extremist Islamic groups. Indonesia officially recognizes five faiths-Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism-and although Islamic holidays predominate, holy days such as Good Friday, Waisak (a Buddhist holiday), and Nyepi (a Balinese/Hindi festival) are public holidays. Animists, Confucians, Baha'is, and others whose faith is not among Indonesia's five officially recognized religions have difficulty obtaining national identity cards, which are needed to register births, marriages, and divorces. Members of the Ahmadiyah sect, which many Muslims view as heretical, are subject to frequent instances of religious intolerance and harassment. In July, mobs repeatedly attacked the Ahmadiyah compound in West Java. Academic freedom in Indonesia is generally respected.

Indonesia has many effective, outspoken human rights groups, including Imparsial, Humanika, and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. However, they face "monitoring, abuse, and interference by the government," the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report said. Independence activists in Aceh, Papua, and Malaku, and labor and political activists in Java and Sulawesi, all remain likely targets for human rights abuse. The case of Munir Said Thalib, a prominent rights activist who died of arsenic poisoning in 2004 while on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam, remains unsolved and a cause for great concern. Although the government generally respects the right of freedom of assembly, the authorities have restricted this right in conflict areas.

Indonesian workers can join independent unions, bargain collectively, and, except for civil servants, stage strikes. Government enforcement of minimum-wage and other labor laws is weak, however, and there are credible reports of employers dismissing or otherwise exacting retribution from union organizers. Moreover, unions allege that factory managers at times use youth gangs or plainclothes security forces-often off-duty soldiers and police-to intimidate workers or break strikes. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of Indonesia's 80 million industrial workers are unionized.

SBY has made legal reform a key objective of his new government and has appointed well-known reformers to the positions of attorney general and chief justice of the Supreme Court. Indonesia's judicial system, according to its new attorney general, Abdul Rahman Saleh, is so mired in corruption that justice typically is awarded to the highest bidder. Saleh's reform efforts have become at least partially sidetracked as a result of a peripheral dispute between his office and legislators. According to the 2005 State Department's human rights report, bribes influence prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in countless civil and criminal cases, and court outcomes are often influenced by military personnel and government officials. Courts often limit defendants' access to counsel and allow forced confessions in criminal cases. Saleh attributes the problem in part to extremely low salaries for judicial officials, as well as to the traditional lack of punishment for illegal activity. The Supreme Court continues to discipline judges in an unprecedented manner, with five dismissed in the second half of 2004 alone. Still, the assumption of legal corruption is so pervasive that the Legal Review recently published a list detailing the price of victory in court cases, said to vary with the trial venue (prices ranged $8,300 at the Bandung District Court to as much as $600,000 at the Supreme Court).

The two-year-old Constitutional Court, however, has established an early record for independent rulings that take due consideration of legal principles. In 2004, it infuriated some in the government with its ruling that the government's attempt to apply new antiterrorist laws retroactively was unconstitutional. More recently, when SBY took the economically necessary, but broadly unpopular, step of doubling gasoline prices, the court ruled that the move to impeach the president on the basis of that policy had no legal standing.

The judiciary's weakness has helped perpetuate human rights abuses by security forces. In Aceh, the army has been implicated in summary killings, "disappearances," rapes, illegal detentions, and other abuses against suspected GAM guerrillas or sympathizers, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Legal actions against GAM supporters have taken place without defendants being granted legal representation. Army abuses also continue in Papua. It is expected that peace agreements in Aceh will diminish the frequency of both government human rights abuses and rebel violence against government officials and civilians. In general, the recent peace seems to be holding through the initial, disarmament phase.

Indonesian forces enjoy near impunity in encounters with ordinary criminal suspects. Meanwhile, Amnesty International continues to receive reports of torture by soldiers and police, not only of suspects in conflict zones but also of criminal suspects, peaceful political activists, and Indonesians involved in land and other disputes with authorities. In addition, guards routinely mistreat and extort money from inmates in the country's overcrowded prisons. According to HRW, "Indonesian military officers and soldiers who commit human rights violations remain largely beyond the reach of the law." HRW goes on to report than no senior military officers have been held accountable for human rights violations anywhere in the archipelago, and that convictions in one test case for justice in Suharto-era attacks were overturned in July 2005.

Efforts to curb military impunity were dealt a setback by the acquittals or relatively short jail terms handed down in cases related to the 1999 violence in East Timor that killed more than 1,000 civilians. In a series of trials that ended in August 2004, a Jakarta court acquitted 12 defendants and handed down jail terms of between three and ten years to 6 found guilty. That trial process drew to a close in late 2004 and was largely judged a failure. In response to moves in the international community to establish a war crimes tribunal, Indonesia and East Timor established a Commission on Truth and Friendship, which met for the first time in August 2005. Significantly, the committee does not have prosecutorial powers, thus continuing the pattern of impunity for military offenders.

Ethnic Chinese continue to face some harassment and violence, though far less than in the late 1990s, when violent attacks killed hundreds and destroyed many Chinese-owned shops and churches. Unlike other Indonesians, ethnic Chinese must show a citizenship card to obtain a passport, credit card, or business license or to enroll a child in school-a requirement that makes them vulnerable to extortion by bureaucrats. Ethnic Chinese make up less than 3 percent of the nation's population, but are resented by some Indonesians for holding the lion's share of private wealth. A few ethnic Chinese have amassed huge fortunes in business, though most are ordinary traders or merchants.

Ethnic Dayaks in Kalimantan and other members of Indonesia's other minority groups face considerable discrimination. The government at times fails to stop mining and logging companies from encroaching on communal land in Kalimantan and other areas-often in collusion with local military and police-and appropriates land claimed by indigenous Indonesians for development projects without fair compensation.

In a positive development, peace is slowly returning to areas of the archipelago that recently have been torn by violence along ethnic or sectarian lines, including the Moluccas, central Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. However, setbacks continue to occur. In October 2005, three Christian girls were beheaded and dismembered by a group of Muslim youths in Poso Central Sulawesi, a development that led police to immediately strengthen security to prevent the Muslim-Christian violence that tore areas of the nation apart in the late 1990s. In Bekasi, West Java, individuals claiming to be members of the Islam Defenders Front have blocked three churches from holding services for months, leading to tension-filled confrontations between Christian and Muslim mobs. In Kalimantan and other areas, many disputes between ethnic groups are said to be linked to the government's decades-old policy of resettling tens of thousands of Indonesians to remote parts of the archipelago from overcrowded areas such as Java.

Indonesian women face considerable discrimination. They are often steered by factory employers into low-level, low-paying jobs, and female university graduates reportedly receive salaries that are 25 percent lower, on average, than those paid to their male counterparts. Female household servants at times are forced to work without pay, for extremely low wages, or in situations of debt bondage. Female genital mutilation is reportedly still practiced in some areas, although the more extreme forms of the practice apparently are becoming less common. Trafficking of women for prostitution, forced labor, and debt bondage reportedly continues unabated, often with the complicity or involvement of police, soldiers, and officials, despite the recent passage of a child-trafficking bill and of stiffer provisions against trafficking of women. Abortion is illegal in Indonesia, except to save a woman's life. Divorce is legal, following efforts of the judge to effect reconciliation; in cases of divorce, the court renders a decision concerning child custody. Indonesia does not have anti-sodomy laws.