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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression: Structure, Agency and Popular Opinion



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Explaining Indonesia's Democratic Regression: Structure,
Agency and Popular Opinion
Eve Warburton, Edward Aspinall
Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs,
Volume 41, Number 2, August 2019, pp. 255-285 (Article)
Published by ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
For additional information about this article
Access provided at 15 Oct 2019 04:26 GMT from National University of Singapore
Contemporary Southeast Asia 41, No. 2 (2019), pp. 255–85 DOI: 10.1355/cs41-2k
© 2019 ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute ISSN 0129-797X print / ISSN 1793-284X electronic
EvE Warburton is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Asia Research
Institute, National University of Singapore. Postal address: 10 Kent
Ridge Crescent, #07-01 AS8, 119260; email:
EdWard aspinall is a Professor of Politics at the Department of
Political and Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs,
Australian National University. Postal address: Hedley Bull Building,
130 Garran Road Acton, ACT 2601 Australia; email: edward.aspinall@
Explaining Indonesia’s
Democratic Regression:
Structure, Agency and
Popular Opinion
After almost two decades of praise for Indonesia’s democratic achieve-
ments, a scholarly consensus has begun to emerge that Indonesian
democracy is in regression. In this article, we consider the sources of
that regression. Drawing upon the comparative literature on democratic
decline, we propose that Indonesia is an illiberal democracy, and
argue that a constellation of structural, agential and popular forces
has led to an incremental deterioration in democratic quality. We
first reaffirm arguments that trace the origins of contemporary
democratic weakness to the nature of Indonesia’s transition, and the
incorporation of anti-democratic elites into the governing structures
of its democracy. We then show how Indonesia’s two most recent
presidents each eroded democratic norms and institutions in pursuit
of political security. Finally, we cast a critical eye on the widely shared
view that Indonesia’s population is a bulwark of democratic strength.
While most Indonesians support democracy as an abstract concept,
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256 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
significant parts of the population show limited support for the
protections, checks and freedoms that underpin a liberal democracy.
We suggest there is a significant constituency for illiberalism in
Indonesia, and point to the presence of a conducive electoral environment
for further democratic erosion.
Keywords: democratic decline, illiberal democracy, populism, democratisation.
For much of the last two decades, comparativists and country
experts have praised Indonesia’s democratic progress and stability.
Free, fair and competitive elections are held regularly throughout
the country, ensuring that officeholders from village heads to the
president are chosen directly by citizens. Indonesia boasts rich
associational life and its media is largely free. Writing in 2009,
noted democracy scholar Larry Diamond applauded Indonesia for
achieving the status of a “stable democracy — with no obvious
threats or potent anti-democratic challenges on the horizon”.1
Diamond also described Indonesia as “a relatively liberal democracy”.
Like Diamond, other comparativists continue to see Indonesia as a
healthy democracy, where public support for democratic government
remains among the highest and most stable in Asia.2
Events since 2014, however, have cast doubt upon this character-
ization of Indonesia’s democracy. A new consensus is emerging that
Indonesia is now in the midst of democratic regression. Analysts
have documented the rise of a xenophobic brand of populist politics,
an illiberal drift in the regulation of civil liberties and protection
of human rights, and the government’s manipulation of state
institutions to entrench itself in power. These trends amount to the
“relatively fine-grained degrees of change” that comparative scholars
argue are symptomatic of democratic backsliding.3
While observers present mounting evidence that Indonesia’s
democracy is in decline, few have grappled with the question of
why this is so. In this article, we reflect on Indonesia’s evolution
from democratic success to incipient regression. Specifically, we ask:
Why was a decade of relative democratic stability followed by a
decade of stagnation and, now, growing signs of regression? What
underlying processes might account for the accumulating forces in
favour of democratic illiberalism? Why has Indonesia’s democracy
persisted but not, it seems, consolidated?
To answer these questions, we re-examine the arc of Indonesia’s
democratic evolution, drawing on contemporary theories of demo-
cratic decline that emphasize interactions between structural, agential
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 257
and attitudinal factors. In doing so, we reaffirm a prominent position
in the Indonesia literature that emphasizes how authoritarian elites
integrated into democratic institutions, embedding anti-democratic
potential within the new system. We then show how the agency
of specific political elites—notably of Indonesia’s two most recent
presidents—has contributed to democratic stagnation and then
decline, in response to changing political environments. However,
we also suggest greater attention should be paid to the popular
context in which democratic decline is taking place. For years,
analysts viewed the Indonesian public and civil society as bulwarks
against undemocratic elites; we suggest this characterization needs
revising. Populist and sectarian campaigns have attracted significant
public support in recent years, and there has been little public
backlash against what is now a well-documented deterioration in
the state’s protection of individual rights and freedoms. Drawing
on recent polling data, we show that although public support for
democracy as an abstract concept remains high, strong support does
not extend to the institutions and values that underpin a liberal
democratic order. The illiberal sensibilities of a large slice of the
public provide a conducive context for elites to erode Indonesia’s
young democracy.
We develop this argument in four parts. In the first section, we
set the scene by reviewing recent signs of democratic regression,
notably the rise of populism, and increasing illiberalism in the
regulation of individual freedoms and democratic checks and
balances. In the second section, we review possible explanations for
Indonesia’s democratic trajectory. We first consider structural factors,
revisiting Indonesia’s democratic transition, and explain how that
process planted the seeds for contemporary problems. We then move
to consider the agency of political elites, with a particular focus
on Indonesia’s two directly-elected presidents—Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono (2004–14) and Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” (2014–present).
Finally, we turn to popular opinion, and attempt to identify
constituencies favouring an illiberal political order.
Signs of Democratic Regression
The Populist Challenge
One defining characteristic of the wave of democratic regression
occurring worldwide over the last decade is that “most democratic
breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers but by
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258 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
elected governments”.4 Events like the 2014 coup in Thailand—in
which authoritarian actors move from outside a country’s democratic
system to overthrow it—are now relatively rare. A more common
pattern occurs when an elected leader bends democratic institutions
to his (or her) anti-democratic agenda, gradually creating an illiberal
democracy or an electoral authoritarian regime. Such leaders often
do so by promising strong and decisive leadership and presenting
themselves, in populist style, as a personification of the popular
will.5 Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Recep
Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey are among the most obvious recent
Prabowo Subianto’s presidential bids in 2014 and 2019 have
shown that Indonesia, too, is vulnerable to authoritarian-populism.
Prabowo, a former general, Special Forces Commander, and son-in-law
of Indonesia’s long-serving authoritarian leader, Suharto, was one
of the few authoritarian-era political figures who became virtually
a political persona-non-grata after the democratic breakthrough of
1998–99. He had been implicated in the disappearance of anti-
Suharto activists, had a well-known history of personal brutality,
was suspected of complicity in violent rioting that preceded
Suharto’s resignation in 1998, and was discharged from the military
in such disgrace that he went into a period of self-imposed
political exile in Jordan.6 Yet, by 2014 his political image had been
rehabilitated to such a degree that he was twice able to mount a
convincing presidential campaign.
One of the authors of this article has previously characterized
Prabowo’s campaign as a “classically authoritarian populist
challenge”.7 In both his 2014 and 2019 election bids, Prabowo
condemned Indonesia’s exploitation at the hands of foreigners
and corrupt political elites and presented himself—and the tough
leadership he offers—as the remedy to Indonesia’s problems.
The tone of both his campaigns was far outside emerging norms
of Indonesian democracy. For example, his condemnation of
Indonesia’s self-interested “elite”—even its “oligarchy”—which he
blames for Indonesia’s subjugation to exploitative foreigners, contrasts
sharply with the emphasis on elite cooperation characteristic
of preceding governments. His advocacy of a return to the
authoritarian 1945 Constitution also breaks with the preceding
consensus that post-Suharto political and constitutional reforms had
benefitted Indonesia.
In 2014, Prabowo lost by a margin of 6 per cent to Jokowi; in
2019 he lost by 11 per cent. Both elections thus brought Indonesia
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 259
dangerously close to severe authoritarian regression. After his defeats,
Prabowo initially refused to accept the results, demonstrating his
willingness to violate core democratic norms. After his 2014 loss,
his coalition was able to briefly command a majority in Indonesia’s
national parliament and pass a law that rolled back one of the
major post-Suharto political reforms—direct elections of heads of
regional governments (President Yudhoyono was so daunted by the
public backlash that he quickly moved to annul this change). After
his second defeat, Prabowo again rejected the official results, this
time with violent consequences. He claimed the election had been
stolen, the results were fraudulent and encouraged his supporters to
take to the streets. On 22 May, a day after the Election Commission
formally announced that Jokowi had been re-elected with 55.5 per
cent of the vote, thousands of pro-Prabowo supporters organized
rallies around Jakarta. While initially peaceful, the protests later
turned deadly as a violent mob attacked police and government
buildings, leading to seven deaths and hundreds of injuries.8
Prabowo’s sustained attacks on Indonesia’s democratic process,
and the violence that occurred in the wake of the 2019 elections,
demonstrate the immense threat that authoritarian populism poses
to Indonesian democracy.9
A different kind of challenge was evinced by the 2016–17
Islamist mobilizations against Jakarta’s Chinese Christian governor,
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok). The details of this
case have been the focus of much scholarly and media attention,
and have been documented elsewhere.10 During his campaign for
the governorship in late 2016, Ahok spoke against the misuse of
a Quranic verse that allegedly prevents Muslims from supporting
non-Muslim leaders, prompting charges of blasphemy. What
ensued were the largest street protests of the democratic era. The
protests were organized by a coalition of Islamist groups and
conservative Islamic leaders and organizations, with the backing
of mainstream political elites—including Prabowo, whose party
sponsored one of Ahok’s rivals, Anies Basweden. The sectarian
campaign was successful: while over 70 per cent of Jakartans were
satisfied with Ahok’s performance, only 42 per cent voted for him,
delivering Anies a resounding victory with 58 per cent of the vote.11
Ahok, still a sitting governor, was then found guilty of blasphemy
and sentenced to two years in prison.
The campaign against Ahok was not an overtly authoritarian
movement: none of the key figures advocated doing away with
elections or with the protection of civil liberties writ large. It did,
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260 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
however, indicate the limits to Indonesia’s liberal democracy. The
mobilization against Ahok of what some observers describe as a
form of Islamic populism demonstrated that there are limits to the
degree to which many members of Indonesia’s majority religion,
Islam, are prepared to accept non-Muslims holding important
political positions.12
The Ahok crisis had significant repercussions for national
politics. The coalition of Islamist organizations and figures that
helped bring down Jakarta’s popular governor re-grouped in 2019
and played a prominent role in Prabowo’s campaign for president.13
While by no means a pious Muslim figure, Prabowo was willing
to court the support of hardline Islamists to a degree that was
unprecedented from such a mainstream presidential nominee. So,
while Prabowo’s brand of authoritarian-populism represented an
out-and-out threat of democratic regression, the political mainstream-
ing of sectarian campaigns and fringe Islamist groups points towards
Indonesia’s increasingly illiberal form of democracy—a point we
return to below.
The Illiberal Drift
Less immediately visible than the challenge of populism has been
a broader illiberal evolution in the laws and regulations governing
civil liberties in Indonesia, and in their enforcement. The mobiliza-
tion of draconian laws on defamation and blasphemy, for example,
has become almost routine in contemporary Indonesia. Indonesia’s
Criminal Code, which dates back to the colonial era, the 1965
Blasphemy Law, and the 2008 Law on Electronic Information and
Transactions (ITE), all proscribe defamatory or insulting statements,
including statements that spread hate about religious, racial or
ethnic groups.14 For most of the democratic era, there was no
systematic or state-sanctioned application of these laws aimed at
silencing government critics. In many instances, those prosecuted
for defamation had committed banal acts, such as criticizing an
ex-husband or complaining about poor customer service.
However, there is mounting evidence that people in positions
of power, and politicians at the highest level, are now deploying
the Criminal Code, Blasphemy and ITE laws to ward off and
contain criticism by citizens, opposition figures and anti-corruption
activists.15 For example, government actors deployed the ITE law
with increasing regularity in the lead-up to the 2019 presidential
elections. Thomas Power documents how police harassed and
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 261
threatened anti-Jokowi activists with prosecution under the ITE
law for their involvement in the “Ganti Presiden” or “Change
the President” campaign.16 In early 2019, a high-profile musician
associated with the political opposition, Ahmad Dhani, was
sentenced to one and a half years in prison for a series of tweets in
2016 in which he admonished Ahok and all those who supported
“the blasphemer”. Other members of the public have been charged
with spreading “insulting” comments or memes about the president,
while supporters of Prabowo Subianto have been threatened
with makar (rebellion) charges. As Power argues, the Jokowi
administration, far more than its predecessors, has proved willing
to leverage the ITE law and other legal mechanisms for partisan
There are new restrictions on freedom of organization, too. A
regulation introduced in 2017 gives the government broad powers
to disband community organizations. This regulation was the work
of President Jokowi. The Islamist mobilizations against Ahok and
a general rise in sectarian activism unnerved the president. In
response, Jokowi “forged a tool for repression” in the form of a
Regulation in Lieu of Law (Peraturan Pemerintah Pengganti Undang
Undang/Perppu) that enables the government to disband any
organization it deems a threat to Pancasila, the state-sanctioned
ideology.18 Jokowi’s first move was to ban Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia
(HTI), a radical but non-violent Islamist group that had been active
in the anti-Ahok movement. In fact, the government already had
a means of banning such groups: the 2013 Law on Societal
Organization prohibited organizations from “holding, promoting,
as well as disseminating teachings or concepts which contradict
Pancasila”. The Jokowi government, however, wanted to avoid
the legislative and judicial checks built into this law. The Perppu
drew directly on traditions and discourses of political control used
during the Suharto era, when authorities deployed Pancasila as an
ideological justification for supressing dissent.
Many Indonesians, including liberals and pluralists, have
welcomed Jokowi’s heavy-handed approach to groups like HTI,
which are themselves undemocratic and illiberal. Opinion polls
show that a majority of Indonesians support the government’s
Perppu, while many members of Jokowi’s pluralist coalition see
themselves under threat from the rise of groups such as HTI and
accordingly support its suppression, and others move to curb the
influence of hardline Islamism. It is striking, however, that neither
Jokowi nor other leaders frame their rejection of radical agendas as
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262 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
a defence of Indonesia’s democracy or civil liberties. Instead, they
justify it as a defence of Pancasila—the same tactic used by President
Suharto when cracking down on opposition to his rule. As Marcus
Mietzner puts it, President Jokowi chooses to fight “illiberalism
with illiberalism”.19
Finally, alongside these illiberal regulatory tools, there has also
been an incremental deterioration in the protection of minority
rights. This deterioration, though ultimately state-sanctioned, is
driven by community-led vilification of minority groups, and reflects
the influence of Islamic majoritarianism: belief in the primacy of
the interests and values of the Islamic majority, as defined by its
conservative spokespersons. At its most extreme, this attitude gives
rise to attacks on groups portrayed as “deviant”. Robin Bush argues
that “especially during [Yudhoyono’s] second term, minority groups
such as Ahmadiyah, Shi’a and even Christian groups experienced
sustained and repeated attacks—increasingly involving the use
of violence”.20 President Jokowi is associated with Indonesia’s
pluralist political traditions, and, as noted above, his unwinding of
democratic liberties has been partly aimed at constraining Islamists.
His presidency has in some instances brought relief for minorities
(for example, allowing followers of unorthodox religious beliefs
to list those beliefs, rather than one of a restricted range of
monotheistic religions, on their national identity cards), but in other
cases the situation for minority groups has markedly worsened.
From 2016 there was an upswing in homophobic attacks by
politicians, religious organizations, vigilante groups and police.
Triggered by debates about Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transsexual (LGBT)
student support groups on campus, a chorus of anti-gay rhetoric
poured from high-profile public figures. Senior government leaders
even claimed that gay activism was part of a proxy war by foreign
forces bent on destroying Indonesia from within.21 These harmful
narratives appear to resonate with the Indonesian public: surveys
indicate that almost 90 per cent view LGBT citizens as a threat.22
Against this backdrop, President Jokowi failed to condemn the attacks
on Indonesia’s LGBT community.
These trends demonstrate that as Indonesian democracy evolves,
it tends to entrench certain limits to the expression of individual
conscience and identity. In many parts of the world, including
in parts of Northeast Asia, democratic consolidation has been
accompanied by growing recognition of individual liberty, gender
equality, and religious and sexual freedom. On the whole, this
development has not occurred in Indonesia. As Jeremy Menchik
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 263
has persuasively argued, mainstream Islamic opinion—as sanctioned
by government policy— recognizes a system of religious, or even
communal, democracy in which the major monotheistic religious
groups are accorded state recognition and support, including in
policing their own boundaries.23 The result is that groups such as
sexual minorities, atheists and members of non-conforming sects
continue to be subject to state repression.
Explaining Democratic Regression
Where does our analysis suggest we should place Indonesia on
the spectrum of regime types? On the one hand, it is obvious
that Indonesia cannot be considered a liberal democracy, which
mainstream democratic theory defines as a regime in which free
and fair elections are accompanied by guarantees of a wide range
of civil liberties, including for minority groups, and institutions that
uphold an impartial rule of law.24 On the other hand, Indonesian
national governments have not yet engaged in systematic manipula-
tion of state institutions to entrench themselves in power, nor have
they systematically manipulated electoral processes or restricted
the space for opposition actors. The country therefore cannot be
considered to be an electoral authoritarian regime. Instead, Indonesia
must still be regarded as democratic if, by that term, we adopt a
minimalist definition that emphasizes the ability of a citizenry to
choose its leaders through free and fair electoral processes.25
It follows that Indonesia is today best classified as an illiberal
democracy: a system in which the population can effectively choose
their own leaders but in which there are serious constraints on
civil liberties and the rule of law.26 Nor can further democratic
backsliding be ruled out. The electoral playing field has not yet been
tilted dramatically such as to severely constrain competitiveness and
thus amount to full authoritarian backsliding.27 However, there have
been both overt threats (such as Prabowo’s occasional condemnation
of direct elections) and more subtle erosion (such as the legal moves
against supporters of the 2019 “Change the President” movement).
Moving from classification to causation, how can the incremental
deterioration in the quality of Indonesia’s democracy be explained?
Theorizing on the causes of the contemporary global democratic
recession is still in its infancy, with the new literature being
“empirically, theoretically and methodologically fragmented”.28 Much
of this literature, drawing on earlier theories of democratization,
stresses that causes of democratic decline are never singular, and
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264 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
instead involve a complex mixture of structural, institutional, agential
and socio-cultural factors. In this section, we consider a range of
forces that have contributed to Indonesia’s current political moment,
from structural problems inherited from the democratic transition,
to the agency of particular elites, to the public’s weak embrace of
liberal norms. Our intention is not to isolate the most proximate
cause of Indonesia’s democratic decline; rather, our objective is
to identify the complex of factors that have coalesced to produce
the “incremental and multidimensional regressive change” that is
characteristic of democratic backsliding.29 In particular, we argue
that a three-part dynamic has driven Indonesia’s democratic decline:
first, political structures were predisposed towards regression by
the inclusion of non-democratic actors in government during the
country’s democratization process; second, senior political elites,
notably two of Indonesia’s post-Suharto presidents, calculated that
they could benefit politically by eroding civil liberties, albeit while
responding to very different political incentives; and third, public
opinion failed to act as a check on the drift towards illiberalism
because while the majority of the public is supportive of democracy
as an abstract principle, it is less so with regard to the full range
of protections associated with liberal democracy.
Structural Explanations: Legacies of Inclusion
In the comparative literature, a large number of structural conditions
has been conjectured to explain democratic backsliding and breakdown.
Such factors include low levels of economic development, wealth
and income inequality, poorly-designed political institutions, ethnic
fractionalization and fractious governing coalitions.30 The literature
on Indonesia is replete with descriptions of the shortfalls of
Indonesian democracy—entrenched corruption and patronage
politics, oligarchy and wealth inequality, ineffective political parties
and so on—many of which might lend support to these wider
explanations. We lack space to review each in detail, and instead
propose that a historical institutionalist argument best captures
the structural forces underpinning Indonesia’s democratic decline.
In particular, we foreground the nature of Indonesia’s democratic
transition. The regime change that occurred in 1998–99 is best
viewed in retrospect as being a critical juncture which laid the
seeds of both the ensuing democratic stabilization and the
subsequent period of democratic stagnation.
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 265
Indonesia’s democratic success was sudden and unexpected.
For just over three decades, between 1966 and 1998, the country
was ruled by one of the most resilient and effective authoritarian
regimes of the Cold War era. To be sure, there were elements of the
Indonesian experience that in retrospect facilitated democratization:
for example, civil society was able to expand through the Suharto
years,31 and authoritarian restrictions helped generate evolution
away from anti-democratic variants of Islamism among mainstream
Islamic organizations.32 Overall, however, the regime was ruled
in a manner that undercut rather than built a foundation for the
subsequent democratic system: the military played a pre-eminent
role in political life and developed a self-image as saviour of the
nation from fractious political interests—an image that has been
maintained up to the present day; incessant political intervention
and corruption undermined the integrity of the judiciary and civil
service; memories of a massive anti-communist massacre that had
accompanied the birth of the regime in 1965–66 crippled the
resurrection of political organizations along class lines, and in
particular among poor Indonesians; and the regime’s neo-patrimonial
features produced a fusion of economic and political power that gave
rise to a group of oligarchs whose wealth depends on the capture
of state institutions.
The democratic transition combined a sudden political opening,
which compelled the adoption of democratic institutions and
procedures, with the incorporation into the new ruling class of
a group of holdovers from the authoritarian regime whose values
and interests were shaped by the benefits they had accrued from
Suharto’s system of rule. In other words, potential spoilers were
integrated into the new distribution of power.33 For example, former
military leaders continued to occupy key defence and security posts.
While the system of “dual function”—under which the military was
expected to play an explicitly political as well as a defense role—
was ended, its territorial structure, by which it shadows civilian
administration at every level, survived.34 Similarly, in the wake
of decentralization and the devolution of political authority and
financial resources to the regions, local bureaucratic and business
elites who first established their dominance during the New Order
proved very capable at reinventing themselves as democratic
politicians, capturing local-level state power throughout much of
Indonesia.35 It should be stressed that Indonesia’s experience in
this regard hardly makes it unique; on the contrary, it has been
argued that recent democratic transitions have frequently produced
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266 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
“elite-biased democracy”, in which the interests of authoritarian-era
economic and political elites are structurally protected.36
In Indonesia’s case, the combination of pressure for reform
from below with accommodation from above was the context in
which Indonesia’s new democratic institutions emerged. Though
the extent of change surpassed early expectations, by the beginning
of the Yudhoyono presidency in 2004, the impetus for reform was
largely exhausted. Indonesia’s new democratic system was widely
accepted, but the mass movements that had impelled regime change
in 1998–99 had dissipated and were unable to transform themselves
into political vehicles, compete in elections and capture political
We can therefore trace the origins of many of the contemporary
problems of Indonesian democracy—including the rise of populist
challengers and creeping illiberalism—to the dynamics that
accompanied its birth. For example, the endemic corruption which
Indonesians routinely identify in opinion polls as one of the
country’s major problems is linked to the continuing political and
economic influence of the New Order oligarchs.38 Public disquiet
about corruption in turn undermines trust in political parties and
other democratic institutions. Prabowo understood this and placed
the attack on corruption at the centre of his populist critique of
Indonesia’s elite and his call for strong leadership. Indeed, as
Paul Kenny argues in his comparative study of populism in Asia,
Indonesia’s patronage-style of democracy and low levels of party
loyalty have made it vulnerable to populist threats. As in other
patronage democracies such as the Philippines, Kenny argues,
presidential candidates cannot rely upon party machines to mobilize
votes, and “the effect at the national level has been the promotion
of increasingly populist presidential campaigns”.39
The design of Indonesia’s system of government also plays
a role, though it is difficult to be definitive (as is often the case
with understanding the role of institutional factors in democratic
decline).40 Indonesia adopted a political system that combines
presidentialism, which is generally seen as deleterious to democratic
consolidation, with highly inclusionary patterns of party participa-
tion in governing coalitions. At the same time, the country’s
proportional representation electoral system has dispersed power
among parties and so avoided the debilitating polarization that
contributed to democratic reversals in countries such as Thailand.
But that very same system has also removed from Indonesia the
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 267
disciplining presence of an effective opposition, and contributed
to the dynamic of all-inclusive patronage sharing that undermines
democratic performance. Indonesia’s constitutional design thus
facilitated democratic transition by providing a broad range of parties
and actors with a stake in government, but arguably undermined its
longer-term consolidation by encouraging patronage-based politics,
weakening party machines and preventing the clear alternation of
government seen elsewhere, such as in South Korea and Taiwan.41
This pervasiveness of patronage, in turn, has motivated some of the
discontent that fuels anti-democratic challengers.
Of course, other structural factors, often raised in comparative
large-N studies of democratic regression, are also relevant for the
Indonesian case. For instance, Indonesia was a relatively poor
country when it transitioned to democracy in the late 1990s. It
was also experiencing one of the most severe economic downturns
of modern times; serious economic contractions frequently trigger
regime change.42 Since the early post-crisis years, Indonesia’s
economic growth has consistently hit rates of over 5 per cent per
annum, meaning that Indonesia has become a lower middle-income
country, experiencing an increase of GDP per capita from US$1,076
(current US dollars) in 2003 to US$3,847 in 2017.43 Even so,
its GDP per capita is a fraction of the more successful democratic
consolidators in Northeast Asia such as South Korea (US$29,743 in
2017). There is growing consensus among scholars that economic
modernization does not explain the timing of democratic transitions
very well, though it does help explain which democratic regimes
remain stable once they have been established. In this regard,
Indonesia arguably fits a general pattern as a country in which
political factors impel a transition to democracy, but where the
economic and social base is insufficiently developed to sustain a
high-quality, liberal democracy.44
Overall, we argue that structural explanations of Indonesia’s
democratic decline need to emphasize the influence of historical
institutional change and the nature of Indonesia’s transition from
authoritarian rule. This transition integrated into the democratic
system actors and forces that, over time, have produced regressive
political outcomes for Indonesia’s democracy.
Elite-agency Explanations: From Inclusion to Polarization
Agency-based theories locate political leaders as the key actors in
democratic decline, emphasizing the significance of elite actions
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268 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
and choices. To some extent, any analysis of democratic regression
needs to take account of elite agency, because regression necessarily
involves reducing the scope of political participation and expression
to a narrower band of people, and empowering a country’s rulers
at the expense of their political opponents and the mass public.
Democratic regression is, by definition, an elite project.
However, agent-focused analyses suffer from well-known
defects: they assume leaders make decisions in the absence of
structural constraints, and their conclusions are often based upon
“relatively ad hoc analyses of decision making relying on inductive
judgments that defy falsification”.45 Elite choices are, in reality,
never unconstrained, and we argue that the actions of Indonesia’s
political leaders can only be understood within the structural context
sketched out in the previous section. That context, which facilitated
the survival of undemocratic actors and undermined the strength of
democratic institutions, constitutes what David Waldner and Ellen
Lust term a “background vulnerability” to democratic backsliding;
however, specific moments or episodes of backsliding are almost
always the work of political decision-makers.46
In the literature on Indonesia, many analysts apportion blame for
the country’s democratic problems to the political class in general.
Marcus Mietzner, for example, holds the “elite, as a collective”
responsible for a host of institutional changes that have narrowed
the field of electoral competition and undermined democratic checks
and balances.47 Of course, the historical legacy and pathway sketched
above is a critical part of the background. The prominent place
of New Order military and politico-business figures in the new
democratic polity helped to maintain patterns of thought that justify
authoritarian and illiberal behaviour among the political elite writ
large. Routine attacks on the Corruption Eradication Commission
(KPK) by political parties and the police, and parliamentarians’
attempts to roll back direct local elections, demonstrate that some
key reform-era institutions enjoy little support in elite circles.
The failure of consecutive governments, and the political elite in
general, to pursue transitional justice and reckon with Indonesia’s
history of human rights violations has also helped to legitimate the
continuing political role of past human rights abusers such as
Prabowo Subianto, or Jokowi’s Coordinating Minister for Politics,
Law and Security, retired General Wiranto, and has made possible
future political roles by similar military figures.
Analysts have also homed in on the actions and decision
of specific individuals. In particular, Indonesia’s two directly-
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 269
elected presidents have loomed large in scholarly explanations
for the country’s democratic stagnation and more recent decline.
Reflecting on Yudhoyono’s decade in power from 2004 to 2014,
many analysts argued that Yudhoyono himself and his style of
leadership played a critical role in Indonesia’s lack of democratic
progress and, in some arenas, regression.48 He was an instinctively
conservative politician, and he sought broad coalitions that ensured
his government suffered few destabilizing attacks from potential
sources of opposition. Indeed, he can be thought of as personally
embodying the all-inclusive character of Indonesia’s democratic
transition which we have described as being a key facilitating factor
in democratic regression; his presidency was marked by an attempt
to embrace all political tendencies and groups, from the most
conservative, even reactionary, to the more consistently democratic.
This posture also meant President Yudhoyono avoided reforms
that might have harmed established interests and invited political
conflict. As a result, justice for victims of past human rights
abuses, systematic reform of the military and police, and the deep
institutional changes needed to stamp out political corruption, all
fell off the president’s agenda.
President Yudhoyono’s stabilizing impulse also led him to
appease, and even court, Islamist organizations and “assertive
advocates of conservative legal Islamization”.49 He provided Islamic
organizations—particularly the Indonesian Ulama Council (Majelis
Ulama Indonesia, or MUI)—with patronage and institutional support
in order to gain favour with conservative Muslim constituencies
and avert political division, pushing Indonesia’s drift towards
the legal and political majoritarianism described earlier. Towards
the end of his presidency, observers also increasingly focused
on Yudhoyono’s personal failure to protect minority groups from
persecution and criticized his submission to conservative Islamic
Yudhoyono’s ambivalence towards reform, and particularly on
matters of human rights, should not be surprising given his roots
in the New Order military. And, as the previous section explained,
Indonesia’s change-within-continuity pattern of democratic transition
ensured the sustained political dominance of individuals such as
Yudhoyono, whose commitment to a liberal democratic order had
clear limits. The pattern of democratic stagnation in the Yudhoyono
years was shaped, above all, by the inclusive nature of Indonesia’s
democratic transition. This was not a period in which democratic
regression flowed from a deliberate government agenda; instead,
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270 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
stagnation was an unintended effect of the incorporation of a wide
array of anti-democratic actors into the government, and the failure
of senior leadership to press forward with democratization.
The irony is that democratic regression accelerated under a
president who is not from the New Order elite, and whose election
was initially widely lauded as signalling a major step forward in
Indonesia’s democratization. Jokowi’s popularity was enabled by the
post-Suharto political reforms, especially decentralization and direct
elections of local government heads. Jokowi won office in 2014 on
a largely democratic and inclusive platform, and with the support
of volunteers and progressive civil society activists. His campaign
contrasted with the divisive and neo-authoritarian platform of his
rival, Prabowo Subianto. Some of his supporters had hoped that
Jokowi would bring a fresh approach to the country’s democratic
institutions, reversing years of neglect.
Such hopes proved misplaced. Jokowi is a highly circumspect
politician. Despite having a broad governing coalition and strong
public approval for much of his first term, he often behaved like
a deeply insecure president. He balked at pursuing the kind of
democratic reforms that his more liberal supporters had expected
and, instead, allied with conservative figures and forces in order
to shore up his political coalition. Of particular note has been
Jokowi’s cultivation of close ties with military figures, and the
accompanying trend towards greater military involvement in civilian
affairs.51 In the lead-up to the 2019 elections, reports emerged that
Jokowi instructed village-level military commands to actively
promote his policies and close down attempts by opposition
actors to spread “fake news” about him and his government.52 The
president’s campaign for re-election also involved the mobilization
of bureaucratic institutions: government employees, governors,
district heads and even village leaders, were rallied to support
Jokowi, and some were allegedly coerced into doing so.53 This
combination of bureaucratic mobilization, and the manipulation of
legal and security apparatus for political purposes, is typical of how
regional incumbents run campaigns for re-election in contemporary
Indonesia. Jokowi has brought to the presidency some of the
undemocratic behaviours common to local-level politics.54
At the same time, while he continued to represent the pluralist
wing of Indonesian politics, over the course of his first term, Jokowi
also made a series of concessions to political Islam. Anxiety about
Islamist opposition moved Jokowi closer to mainstream Islamic
organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, and to
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 271
the MUI. Ma’ruf Amin, former Chair of MUI and the Rais ‘Aam
(supreme leader) of NU, has been a key beneficiary of Jokowi’s
moves to undercut the conservative Islamic opposition. According
to Greg Fealy, following the anti-Ahok protests, in which Ma’ruf’s
endorsement was crucial, Jokowi “began assiduously courting” the
conservative cleric, providing him with patronage resources and
eventually—albeit at the insistence of his coalition partners—the
offer of a vice presidential nomination.55 By elevating Ma’ruf to
such an influential position, the president endorsed a figure who
openly condemns pluralism, secularism and the rights of the
country’s minorities.
It is important to highlight the context in which Jokowi operated,
especially the polarizing political conflict that became evident
from 2014. If democratic stagnation under Yudhoyono reflected the
pattern of all-embracing inclusivity of the post-Suharto political
settlement, under Jokowi the underlying dynamic shifted to reflect a
new pattern of political polarization between Islamist and pluralist
groups.56 In both the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, Prabowo
allied with hardline Islamist forces to try to defeat Jokowi’s more
pluralist political coalition. The street mobilizations against Ahok
in 2016 and 2017 further ignited the president’s anxiety about the
damage Islamist activism might do to his political position.
This more divided atmosphere prompted Jokowi to move
closer to those mainstream conservative Islamic organizations
and figures described above. But the sustained threat of Islamic
opposition also motivated the president’s heavy-handed approach to
political antagonists and Islamist groups—for example, the Perppu
on mass organizations and the use of the ITE laws to criminalize
opponents.57 Meanwhile, growing polarization between pluralists
and Islamists prompted many of the president’s supporters to
accept repressive measures that they would likely have opposed
earlier in the democratic transition. Comparative studies have
observed that growing oppositional strength is often a trigger for
democratic regression, because it “may produce, as a reaction,
a concentration of power within an incumbent government with
authoritarian tendencies”.58 Studies of political polarization make
a similar point. Murat Somer and Jennifer McCoy argue that
polarization can erode democratic quality when incumbents attempt
to contain or repress undemocratic “others” by “undertake[ing]
actions or employ[ing] discourses that end up undermining
democracy and advancing authoritarianism”.59 This has certainly
been the path taken in Indonesia, and helps to explain the shift
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272 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
from democratic stagnation under Yudhoyono to regression under
Jokowi. If stagnation under Yudhoyono resulted from the pattern
of inclusiveness in government and Yudhoyono’s caution, under
Jokowi regression largely resulted from concerted government action
against opponents.
In sum, the role of elite agency in Indonesia’s democratic
backsliding needs to be understood in the context of the underlying
structural context. The two presidents adopted political styles
that matched the differing historical circumstances in which they
operated. Yudhoyono’s caution—an attitude that had served him
well as the most successful political survivor of the late Suharto
military elite—ultimately prevented him from dismantling funda-
mental democratic procedures and institutions. He was highly
attentive to public and international opinion, and was always
concerned to maintain the image of a democratic statesman.
Yudhoyono was thus reluctant to explicitly reverse Indonesia’s
democratic reforms, even while he incorporated into his governing
coalition a range of undemocratic and illiberal forces.
Jokowi and his administration are less constrained by such
concerns, but are also spurred on by accelerating polarization.
As one of us has argued elsewhere, Jokowi has few ideological
convictions that guide his approach to government and no personal
commitment to a liberal democratic order; he is best characterized
as a narrow developmentalist, whose concern for a limited set
of socio-economic and developmental objectives trumps all other
problems of government.60 His attitudes, in short, are those of a
small-town, problem-solving mayor, who finds himself astride the
national stage but remains fixed on practical issues. Jokowi was
not a player in the transition to democratic rule, and though he
is a product of the new electoral politics, he apparently wears
the democratic values that gave rise to it only lightly, having had
little engagement with matters of democratic principle and political
reform through his career.
Attitudinal Explanations
We have so far emphasized elite agency, the nature of Indonesia’s
democratic transition and the structural conditions which have
enabled anti-reformist and illiberal actors to gradually chip away at
the quality of Indonesia’s democracy. But the traction of populism
in recent years, and popular support for Jokowi despite his
increasingly illiberal agenda, should also prompt more critical
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 273
assessment of societal preferences, and of public commitment
to democratic norms. Scholarship on democratization frequently
assumes that popular support is fundamental to democratic
persistence. Some of the major debates on the global democratic
recession have been prompted by analyses drawing attention to
declining popular preferences for democracy worldwide.61
The literature on Indonesia specifically argues that strong
public support for democracy has been an important defence
against the ambitions of illiberal elites.62 Indeed, polling suggests
that Indonesians have, in the two decades since the transition from
authoritarianism, maintained consistently high levels of support
for democracy.63 Yet data also suggest that many Indonesians
demonstrate only weak support for the liberal norms and precepts
that underpin democratic quality. In this final section, we re-examine
the liberal sensibilities of the Indonesian electorate. To do so,
we draw upon the Asian Barometer (AB) survey, which regularly
asks Indonesians (and citizens of other Asian countries) about
democracy, authoritarianism and the values and preferences
associated with both systems of government. In January 2019, Asian
Barometer released the results of its most recent Fourth Wave survey
on Indonesia, which was conducted in January 2016. The results
suggest Indonesians hold complex views about democracy, and
in many cases express ambivalence towards liberal democratic
To be clear: we do not make the case for a causal link
connecting changing mass attitudes to democratic decline; in fact,
such a linkage remains problematic in the comparative literature.64
For example, we do not detect evidence of either a dramatic or
gradual decline in support for democracy or liberal values over
time, nor suggest that such a decline might be driving the political
changes we have considered in this article. Instead our case is
more modest: we simply suggest that mass attitudes in Indonesia
are more conducive to, at least, an illiberal form of democracy
than is typically recognized in the literature, and may not pose the
challenge to more serious authoritarian backsliding that is normally
Asian Barometer surveys have consistently shown that a
majority of Indonesians agree with the statement that, “While not
perfect, democracy is still the best form of government.” Back in
2011, 77 per cent of Indonesians agreed, and in 2016, the number
remained high at 82 per cent.65 However, other questions reveal
that Indonesians hold much more varied views about democracy.
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274 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
For example, the 2016 AB data show that Indonesians generally do
not conceive of democracy in liberal terms—that is, as a system for
protecting individual rights, electoral competition, and institutional
checks and balances. Instead, they associate democracy with good
governance and socio-economic outcomes, as measured by a series
of questions on what constitutes the most “essential characteristic”
of a democracy. Table 1 shows the results for this set of questions.
Table 1
Meaning of Democracy*
Percentage of respondents that chose each option
Government narrows the gap between the rich and the poor. 13.81
People choose the government leaders in free and fair elections. 41.68
Government does not waste any public money. 11.68
People are free to express their political views openly. 20.90
The legislature has oversight over the government. 7.48
Basic necessities, like food, clothes, shelter are provided for all. 27.10
People are free to organize political groups. 10.71
Government provides people with quality public services. 40.84
Government ensures law and order. 21.87
Media is free to criticize the things government does. 8.19
Government ensures job opportunities for all. 44.90
Multiple parties compete fairly in the election. 10.26
People have the freedom to take part in protests and
demonstrations. 10.77
Politics is clean and free of corruption. 41.42
The court protects the ordinary people from the abuse of
government power. 13.68
People receive state aid if they are unemployed. 20.32
* Respondents were asked, “If you have to choose only one from each four sets of
statements that I am going to read, which one would you choose as the most essential
characteristics of a democracy?”
Source: 2016 AB Wave 4 data,
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 275
Respondents were asked to choose from four possible options.
These options reflect different conceptions of democracy that are
grounded in democratic theory: liberal interpretations emphasize
democratic procedures or individual rights, and illiberal interpreta-
tions emphasize economic equality and delivery of public services.66
The answers marked in bold indicate the most popular response in
each cluster of four options.
The results indicate that while many Indonesians view elections
as an essential element of a democracy, the other most popular
answers were those that characterized democracy in terms of the
government’s socio-economic programmes and performance. In other
words, for many Indonesians, democracy is a system for delivering
substantive economic outcomes, rather than a system that protects
people’s rights and liberties. This finding reflects one of the
conclusions that Saiful Mujani, R. William Liddle and Kuskridho
Ambardi came to in their important study of voter behaviour. Their
study finds that Indonesians’ commitment to democracy is often
closely tied to their satisfaction with government performance. If
citizens are unhappy with the government, they suggest, democracy
as a regime risks losing popular support and legitimacy, and “in
that situation democracy becomes vulnerable to antidemocratic
behaviour, both from elites and from ordinary citizens”.67
The AB survey also asked a series of other questions designed
to measure citizens’ preferences for democratic government, and
support for the values that underpin a liberal democratic system.
On these questions, Indonesians displayed immense variation.
Figures 1 and 2 show the results for several questions included in the
AB’s “preference for democracy” and “democratic values” indexes,
and we compare them with results from Northeast Asian countries
that are generally regarded as “full” or consolidated democracies
(Japan and South Korea) and countries of Southeast Asia which have
experienced major democratic deficits (the Philippines, generally
regarded as a low-quality patronage democracy; Malaysia, then under
an electoral authoritarian regime; and Thailand, which at the time
of the survey was ruled by the military). The figures show that
democratic attitudes in Indonesia are generally much closer to those
held in the country’s less democratic Southeast Asian neighbours
than in the more consolidated democracy of Japan (with South Korea
as an intermediate case).
The results in Figure 1 allow us to make tentative observations
about public perceptions of, and support for, democratic government.
First, compared to citizens from Japan, South Korea and Malaysia,
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276 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
Figure 1
Democratic versus Undemocratic Preferences*
Note: * 2016 AB data; figures indicate percentage that agreed or strongly agreed with
each statement.
fewer Indonesians (58 per cent) felt democracy was always preferable
to authoritarian forms of government; this was nevertheless still
more than citizens in Indonesia’s politically-troubled neighbours,
the Philippines and Thailand. However, almost all Indonesians—and
far more than in any other country—valued economic development
and economic equality over democracy. This implies that, under
circumstances of economic recession or hardship, or even extreme
inequality, Indonesians may be willing to sacrifice democratic rights
and procedures in return for promises of prosperity. In this context,
it is worth recalling that Prabowo drew heavily on narratives of
economic injustice and exploitation to rally support for his neo-
authoritarian brand of populism in 2014 and 2019; and Jokowi’s
erosion of democratic protections has occurred while his government
has maintained a single-minded focus on infrastructure and economic
development that is, stylistically at least, reminiscent of the New
Order’s developmentalist orientation.
Indonesia South Korea Japan Philippines Malaysia Thailand
1. Democracy always preferable
2. Democracy can solve our problems
3. Democracy more important than economic development
4. Political freedom more important than economic equality
5. Army should lead the government
58 63
70 71
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 277
Figure 1 also reveals that a substantial minority of around
a third of Indonesian respondents are willing to accept forms of
government other than democracy, and to let the military run the
country. Only Thailand, under junta rule at the time of the survey,
had a higher level of support. Indeed, support for military rule has
been consistently high in Indonesia across all the Barometer surveys,
and in comparison to other countries.68 Other domestic polls have
shown that Indonesians consistently trust the military more than
almost any other state institution, including the parliament, courts,
political parties and even the KPK.69
The AB results also indicate that many Indonesians exhibit a
paternalistic and illiberal sensibility when it comes to questions
about how society should be governed. Figure 2 shows that between
40 and 50 per cent of respondents expressed views that are at odds
with liberal democratic values, such as the freedom to organize and
the freedom to publicly discuss a range of ideas. On some of these
questions, Indonesia was similar to its flawed democratic neighbours,
the Philippines and Malaysia, and to junta-controlled Thailand.
But Indonesia stood out as particularly illiberal when it came to
supporting the equal political rights of women and men, and a
Figure 2
Democratic versus Undemocratic Values*
Note: * 2016 AB data; figures indicate percentage that agreed or strongly agreed with
each statement.
53 49
27 27
Indonesia South Korea Japan Philippines Malaysia Thailand
1. Government decides what can be discussed
2. Moral leaders can be allowed to decide everything
3. Harmony will be disrupted if people organize many groups
4. Women should be less involved in politics than men
5. The government should consult religious authorities when interpreting laws
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278 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
striking majority of almost 70 per cent believe religious authorities
should play a role in interpreting state laws. These results raise
questions about the nature of Indonesians’ commitment to democratic
government, and to liberal democracy in particular. While Mujani
et al. have characterized Indonesians as “critical democrats”, such
figures suggest “illiberal democrats” might be a more apt descriptor
for a large slice of Indonesian voters, who value electoral procedures
and their right to directly choose their political leaders, but who
do not support a range of liberal democratic norms and institutions
associated with a high-quality, consolidated democracy.
Other sorts of data also indicate that support for illiberalism
is especially strong among urban and middle-class groups. Such
findings contradict the expectations of derivatives of modernization
theory, which assume that primarily urban and middle-class groups
are the bulwarks of democracy. For example, on the day of the 2014
presidential election, Indikator Politik Indonesia administered an
exit poll that showed that better educated voters tended to support
Prabowo (he led Jokowi by 46 to 34 per cent among university
graduates) while the less educated tended to support Jokowi (by
47 to 39 per cent among voters with only an elementary school
degree). Prabowo trailed Jokowi by 37 to 47 per cent among voters
with an income less than Rp 1 million (US$83) per month, but
led him by 45 to 39 per cent in the higher-income bracket (above
Rp 2 million, or US$167). Prabowo was also behind Jokowi in rural
areas, by 38 to 47 per cent, but led narrowly in urban areas by 42
to 40 per cent.70 Broadly similar, but less stark, differentials were
visible in the 2019 election.71
Likewise, in an important recent study, Marcus Mietzner and
Burhanuddin Muhtadi have analysed several years’ worth of survey
data on social and religious intolerance among Indonesian Muslims.72
While they find a general trend of decline in radicalism and certain
types of intolerance, there is a clear socioeconomic division, with
middle-class Muslims consistently more intolerant than lower-
income Indonesians from lower-class professional categories. They
conclude that the “main socio-demographic trend among Indonesian
Muslims between the early 2010s and 2016 was therefore not rising
conservatism, but a shift of the epicentre of conservative-radical
attitudes from the lower classes to the middle classes and elites”.73
We believe that, taken together, such data point towards a
broad-based illiberal constituency that helps account for public
acquiescence to the slide in democratic quality currently underway.
Our review of past AB results indicates similar levels of illiberalism
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 279
over time, from 2006, 2011 and 2016, which suggests that ambivalence
towards liberal norms is a stable and important feature of the
Indonesian electorate. However, the greatest danger lies not simply in
the existence of such a constituency, but for the potential coalescence
between illiberal segments of the Indonesian population with a
reemergent and reinvigorated authoritarian-populist leadership. The
2014 and 2019 presidential elections, the 2016–17 mobilizations
against Governor Ahok, and the Jokowi government’s erosion of
democratic norms and institutions, already indicate that large segments
of the Indonesian public either favour, or are willing to accept, an
increasingly illiberal political landscape.
In this article, we have examined the arc of Indonesia’s post-Suharto
democratic history, and the country’s evolution from democratic
success to regression. In identifying the sources of the country’s
illiberal turn, we did not seek to be exhaustive (had we done so we
would have considered other factors, including the less conducive
international climate for democratic progress now compared to when
Indonesia began its transition 20 years ago). Instead, drawing on
comparative literature on democratic decline, we focused on three
key factors: political structures, elite agency and public attitudes.
Drawing on a reading of Indonesia’s recent past, we identified
both a pathway of historical development and an array of contextual
factors that contributed to rapid democratic change of 1998–2001,
but then conspired to forestall democratic deepening over the
subsequent period. Indonesia’s democratic breakthrough was largely
driven from below, by mass mobilizations; after 1998, the country’s
democracy was partly built by actors associated with the preceding
authoritarian system. We can trace in this circumstance the origins
of both the rapidity of Indonesia’s initial transition to democracy,
and the accumulating problems of democratic rule once the initial
impetus for regime change had exhausted itself. When early reform
pressures dissipated, many leading figures in the new regime edged
back towards politically conservative positions: witness the great
political caution of President Yudhoyono and his reluctance to
push forward reform. The current Jokowi administration aroused
hopes in some quarters for a revival of the lost impetus of the
reformasi years, but Jokowi instead compromised with authoritarian
elements, and accelerated the drift toward illiberalism in an effort
to contain opposition actors.
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280 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
As we have argued, it is reasonable to categorize Indonesia
today as an illiberal democracy. This category describes a regime in
which free and fair elections persist alongside denial of substantive
political rights, such as freedom of speech or freedom to choose
and practise one’s religion. For Diamond, Indonesia today falls
into the category of “less than liberal democracies” along with
Mexico, Columbia and Thailand (prior to the 2014 coup).74 These
countries remain exposed to authoritarian risks and are susceptible
to democratic failure.75 Overall, Indonesia has not yet experienced
systematic abuse of citizens’ rights at the hands of a strongman or
single political party. Instead, the dominant pattern has been the
ad hoc and arbitrary application of arcane laws that infringe upon
citizens’ freedoms and their access to justice, and that narrow the
space for democratic debate, political mobilization and freedom of
expression, alongside abuses of citizens’ rights by powerful actors
embedded in, or connected to, the state at the local level. Over
the last five years, however, the executive has become increasingly
concentrated and strategic in its use of coercion, and this trend
could accelerate in Jokowi’s second term.
Democratic erosion, when carried out by incumbents, is
inherently an elite project. To that extent, Indonesia’s political class
is indeed responsible for the democratic regression described in this
article. However, the considerable traction of divisive and Islamist-
inspired populist campaigns, and a muted public response to the
Jokowi administration’s authoritarian interventions, should prompt
more reflection about the popular base of Indonesian illiberalism.
For many years, analysts have cited polls that demonstrate strong
public satisfaction with democracy and direct elections. However, our
review of recent data suggests that Indonesians hold complex and
ambivalent views about the liberal norms that underpin representative
government. Illiberal views are shared by a relatively large proportion
of the population, and such attitudes provide a conducive environ-
ment for the incremental erosion of Indonesia’s democracy.
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at two workshops on “Democratic
Persistence in East Asia” (June and November 2017, Taipei), organized by the Taiwan
Foundation for Democracy (TFD). We wish to thank the organizers and participants,
and in particular Professor T.J. Cheng, for their valuable feedback.
1 Larry Diamond, “Indonesia’s Place in Global Democracy”, in Problems of
Democratisation in Indonesia: Elections, Institutions and Society, edited by
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 281
Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian
Studies, 2010), p. 23.
2 Chu, Yun-han, Yu-Tzung Chang, Min-hua Huang, and Mark Weatherall,
“Re-Assessing the Popular Foundations of Asian Democracies: Findings from
Four Waves of the Asian Barometer Survey”, Asian Barometer Working Paper
Series, no. 120 (2016): 5–6,
3 David Waldner and Ellen Lust, “Unwelcome Change: Coming to Terms with
Democratic Backsliding”, Annual Review of Political Science 21 (May 2018): 95.
4 Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (New York City, New
York: Crown/Archetype, 2018); Yascha Mounk, The People vs. Democracy: Why
Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 2018).
5 Paul D. Kenny, Populism and Patronage: Why Populists Win Elections in India,
Asia, and Beyond (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017).
6 For a detailed profile of Prabowo Subianto and his military and political career,
see Edward Aspinall, “Oligarchic Populism: Prabowo Subianto’s Challenge to
Indonesian Democracy”, Indonesia, no. 99 (April 2015).
7 Ibid., p. 1.
8 Khrishar Kahfi and Ivany Atina Arbi, “Jakarta Riot: Street Unrest Reaches
Slipi in West Jakarta”, Jakarta Post, 22 May 2019, https://www.thejakartapost.
Fancis Chan and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, “Violence was Coordinated: Jakarta
Police”, Straits Times, 23 May 2019,
9 In his study of populism in Southeast Asia, Case argues that Prabowo’s 2014
defeat demonstrates “populism’s limited resonance in Indonesia today”. But
Prabowo’s strong performance in both 2014 and 2019 presidential elections
illustrates, we believe, the reverse. William Case, Populist Threats and
Democracy’s Fate in Southeast Asia: Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia
(Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017), p. 44.
10 See for example, Tim Lindsey, “Conviction Politics: The Jailing of Ahok”,
Indonesia at Melbourne (blog), 19 May 2017, http://indonesiaatmelbourne.; Sidney Jones, “Indonesia’s
Illiberal Turn”, Foreign Affairs, 26 May 2017,
articles/indonesia/2017-05-26/indonesias-illiberal-turn; Eve Warburton and
Liam Gammon, “Class Dismissed? Economic Fairness and Identity Politics in
Indonesia”, New Mandala (blog), 5 May 2017,
11 Marcus Mietzner and Burhanuddin Muhtadi, “Ahok’s Satisfied Non-Voters: An
Anatomy”, New Mandala (blog), 5 May 2017,
12 On Islamic populism, see for example, Vedi R. Hadiz, “Imagine All the People?
Mobilising Islamic Populism for Right-Wing Politics in Indonesia”, Journal of
Contemporary Asia 48, no. 4 (March 2018): 566–83.
13 Greg Fealy, “Indonesia’s Growing Islamic Divide”, Straits Times, 3 May 2019,
03 Eve-3P.indd 281 30/7/19 1:41 pm
282 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
14 Law No. 1 of 1946 on the Criminal Code; Presidential Instruction No. 1 of 1965
on the Prevention of Religious Abuse and/or Defamation, later transformed into
law by Law No. 5 of 1969; Law No. 11 of 2008 on Electronic Information and
Transactions. For a discussion of these laws and their consequences for civil
liberties, see Amnesty International, Prosecuting Beliefs: Indonesia’s Blasphemy
Laws (London: Amnesty International, 2014),
15 A Human Rights Watch report, for example, detailed the “chilling” impact of
criminal defamation laws on free speech. The report documented incidents
where the Attorney General’s office filed charges against anti-corruption activists
and journalists, and where powerful political figures threatened criminal charges
to contain public criticism and stamp out accusations of corruption. Human
Rights Watch, Indonesia: Repeal Arcane Laws That Criminalize Criticism
(New York City, New York: Human Rights Watch, 2010),
16 Thomas P. Power, “Jokowi’s Authoritarian Turn and Indonesia’s Democratic
Decline”, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 54, no. 3 (2 September 2018):
17 Ibid.
18 Usman Hamid and Liam Gammon, “Jokowi Forges a Tool of Repression”, New
Mandala (blog), 13 July 2017,
19 Marcus Mietzner, “Fighting Illiberalism with Illiberalism: Islamist Populism and
Democratic Deconsolidation in Indonesia”, Pacific Affairs 91, no. 2 (June 2018):
20 Robin Bush, “Religious Politics and Minority Rights during the Yudhoyono
Presidency”, in The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability
and Stagnation, edited by Edward Aspinall, Marcus Mietzner and Dirk Tomsa
(Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015), p. 239.
21 “Menhan Nilai LGBT Bagian dari ‘Proxy War’ yang Harus Diwaspadai” [Defence
Minister Views LGBT as Part of a “Proxy War” that Must be Treated with Vigilance],
Kompas, 23 February 2016,
22 Ahmad Faiz Ibnu Sani, “Survei SMRC: 87,6 Persen Masyarakat Menilai LGBT
Ancaman” [SMRC Survey: 87.6 Percent of the Community View LGBT as a
Threat], Tempo.Com, 25 January 2018,
23 Jeremy Menchik, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism
(Cambridge, UK: New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
24 For a critical discussion of how liberal democracy is conceptualized and debated
in mainstream democratic theory see, for example, Sheri Berman, “The Pipe
Dream of Undemocratic Liberalism”, Journal of Democracy 28, no. 3 (July 2017):
29–38; Joe Foweraker and Roman Krznaric, “Measuring Liberal Democratic
Performance: an Empirical and Conceptual Critique”, Political Studies 48, no.
4 (September 2000): 759–87.
25 The minimalist definition of democracy was first advanced by Joseph Schumpeter
in the 1940s [Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York City, New York:
03 Eve-3P.indd 282 30/7/19 1:41 pm
Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 283
Harper, 1947), p. 269], and remains highly influential in contemporary literature
on democracy: see for example, Adam Przeworski, “Minimalist Conception of
Democracy: A Defense”, in Democracy’s Value, edited by Ian Shapiro and Casiano
Hacker-Cordón (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 23–55.
26 One influential early formulation of the concept is Fareed Zakaria, “The Rise of
Illiberal Democracy”, Foreign Affairs 76, no. 6 (November–December 1997): 22–43.
27 Jennifer Raymond Dresden and Marc Morjé Howard, “Authoritarian Backsliding
and the Concentration of Political Power”, Democratization 23, no. 7 (July
2016): 1122–43.
28 Luca Tomini and Claudius Wagemann, “Varieties of Contemporary Democratic
Breakdown and Regression: A Comparative Analysis”, European Journal of
Political Research 57, no. 3 (August 2018): 691. See also David Waldner and
Ellen Lust, “Unwelcome Change: Coming to Terms with Democratic Backsliding”,
Annual Review of Political Science 21 (May 2018): 93–113.
29 Waldner and Lust, “Unwelcome Change”.
30 Ibid.
31 Edward Aspinall, Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime
Change in Indonesia (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005).
32 Robert W. Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia
(Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000).
33 Edward Aspinall, “The Irony of Success”, Journal of Democracy 21, no. 2
(14 April 2010): 20–34.
34 Marcus Mietzner, Money, Power, and Ideology: Political Parties in Post-
authoritarian Indonesia (Singapore: NUS Press, 2013).
35 Vedi R. Hadiz, Localising Power in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia: A Southeast
Asia Perspective (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2010).
36 See Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, Authoritarianism and the Elite
Origins of Democracy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
37 Aspinall, Mietzner and Tomsa, The Yudhoyono Presidency.
38 Vedi R. Hadiz and Richard Robison, “The Political Economy of Oligarchy and
the Reorganization of Power in Indonesia”, in Beyond Oligarchy: Wealth, Power,
and Contemporary Indonesian Politics, edited by Michele Ford and Thomas
Pepinsky (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2014).
39 Kenny, Populism and Patronage, p. 143.
40 Waldner and Lust, “Unwelcome Change”, pp. 99–101.
41 Dan Slater, “Party Cartelization, Indonesian-Style: Presidential Power-Sharing
and the Contingency of Democratic Opposition”, Journal of East Asian Studies
18, no. 1 (March 2018): 23–46; Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, The
Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1995).
42 Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, “Inequality and Regime Change:
Democratic Transitions and the Stability of Democratic Rule”, American Political
Science Review 106, no. 3 (August 2012): 495–516.
43 Figures taken from the World Bank’s national accounts database, https://data.
03 Eve-3P.indd 283 30/7/19 1:41 pm
284 Eve Warburton and Edward Aspinall
44 For a more general application of this argument, see Steven Levitsky and Lucan
Way, “The Myth of Democratic Recession”, Journal of Democracy 26, no. 1
(January 2015): 45–58.
45 Waldner and Lust, “Unwelcome Change”, p. 97.
46 Ibid., p. 107.
47 Marcus Mietzner, “Authoritarian Innovations in Indonesia: Electoral Narrowing,
Identity Politics and Executive Illiberalism” (forthcoming).
48 See particular chapters by Sidney Jones, Robin Bush, Greg Fealy, John Sidel and
Dominic Berger in Aspinall, Mietzner, and Tomsa, The Yudhoyono Presidency.
49 Tim Lindsey and Helen Pausacker, Religion, Law and Intolerance in Indonesia
(Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016), p. 4.
50 A survey by the Setara Institute in 2013, for example, showed that the majority
of Indonesia’s NGO community blamed Yudhoyono personally for poor progress
on human rights issues too. Dominic Berger, “Human Rights and Yudhoyono’s
Test of History”, in The Yudhoyono Presidency, pp. 220–23.
51 For example, several conservative military figures with histories of human rights
abuses hold influential positions in Jokowi’s government, such as Ryamizard
Ryacudu (Minister for Defence) and Wiranto (Coordinating Minister for Politics,
Law, Security), while A.M. Hendropriyono holds sway behind the scenes.
Further, after General Moeldoko retired from his position as Commander of the
Indonesian Armed Forces in 2018, Jokowi made him Chief of the Presidential
Staff unit and head of his election campaign team. For further details, see IPAC,
“Update on the Indonesian Military’s Influence”, Institute for Policy Analysis
of Conflict, 11 March 2016,
52 Power, “Jokowi’s Authoritarian Turn and Indonesia’s Democratic Decline”, p. 332.
53 Ibid., p. 330.
54 On bureaucratic mobilization in local elections, see Edward Aspinall and
Ward Berenschot, Democracy for Sale: Elections, Clientelism, and the State in
Indonesia (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2019), pp. 176–201.
55 Greg Fealy, “Ma’ruf Amin: Jokowi’s Islamic Defender or Deadweight?”, New
Mandala (blog), 28 August 2018,
56 On this polarization, see, for example, Jamie S. Davidson, Indonesia: Twenty Years
of Democracy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 40–54;
Eve Warburton, “Polarisation in Indonesia: What If Perception is Reality?”, New
Mandala (blog), 16 April 2019,
indonesia/; Edward Aspinall, “Indonesia’s Election and the Return of Ideological
Competition”, New Mandala (blog), 22 April 2019, https://www.newmandala.
57 Power, “Jokowi’s Authoritarian Turn and Indonesia’s Democratic Decline”.
58 Tomini and Wagemann, “Varieties of Contemporary Democratic Breakdown and
Regression”, p. 708.
59 Murat Somer and Jennifer McCoy, “Déjà vu? Polarization and Endangered
Democracies in the 21st Century”, American Behavioral Scientist 62, no. 1
(January 2018): 6.
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Explaining Indonesia’s Democratic Regression 285
60 Eve Warburton, “Indonesian Politics in 2016: Jokowi and the New Developmen-
talism”, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 52, no. 3 (February 2016):
61 See especially, Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, “The Signs of
Deconsolidation”, Journal of Democracy 28, no. 1 (10 January 2017): 5–15,
62 Marcus Mietzner, “Fighting the Hellhounds: Pro-Democracy Activists and Party
Politics in Post-Suharto Indonesia”, Journal of Contemporary Asia 43, no. 1
(1 February 2013): 28–50.
63 Saiful Mujani, R. William Liddle, and Kuskridho Ambardi, Voting Behaviour in
Indonesia since Democratization: Critical Democrats (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 2018).
64 Waldner and Lust, “Unwelcome Change”, pp. 98–99.
65 These and other Asian Barometer figures presented in this article are based on
an analysis of the survey data in which “do not understand”, “can’t choose”
or “decline to answer”, are treated as valid responses, and are not coded as
66 For a discussion of different popular conceptions of democracy, and how to
measure such differences, see Russell J. Dalton, Doh C. Shin, and Willy Jou,
“Popular Conceptions of the Meaning of Democracy: Democratic Understanding
in Unlikely Places”, Centre for the Study of Democracy Working Paper Series,
no. 07’03 (2007), University of California, Irvine,
67 Mujani, Liddle, and Ambardi, Voting Behaviour in Indonesia since Democratization,
p. 18.
68 Chu et al., “Re-Assessing the Popular Foundations of Asian Democracies”.
69 Yoga Sukmana, “Survei LSI: DPR, Lembaga Negara Dengan Tingkat
Kepercayaan Terendah” [LSI Survey: DPR, State Institution with the Lowest
Level of Public Trust],, 31 July 2018, https://nasional.kompas.
70 Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner, “Indonesian Politics in 2014: Democracy’s
Close Call”, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 50, no. 3 (2 September
2014): 359–60; Indikator Politik Indonesia, “Hasil Exit Poll Pemilu Presiden RI
2014 Rabu, 9 Juli 2014” [Exit poll results in the 2014 Indonesian presidential
election, Wednesday, 9 July 2014],
71 Indikator Politik Indonesia, Exit Poll Pemilu 2019, 17 April 2019, http://indikator.
72 Marcus Mietzner and Burhanuddin Muhtadi, “Explaining the 2016 Islamist
Mobilisation in Indonesia: Religious Intolerance, Militant Groups and the Politics
of Accommodation”, Asian Studies Review 42, no. 3 (July 2018): 479–97.
73 Ibid., p. 484.
74 Larry Diamond, “Facing Up to the Democratic Recession”, Journal of Democracy
26, no. 1 (January 2015): 150.
75 Ibid., p. 153.
03 Eve-3P.indd 285 30/7/19 1:41 pm
... Rakyat Indonesia memasuki tahap transisi demokrasi setelah berhasil melewati tahap kritis yang dikenal sebagai runtuhnya rezim dua dekade sebelumnya. Tidak mudah untuk menggoyahkan sistem sebelumnya, yang terjalin erat dan terdiri dari dua aparatur negara, yaitu pertama, ideologis dan kedua, represif (Warburton & Aspinall, 2019). Namun, pada akhirnya dapat digulingkan (runtuhnya kediktatoran) oleh gelombang gerakan masyarakat sipil. ...
... In the context of the state policy towards the 212 movement, various studies seemed to highlight the state's attitude that is believed to reduce the quality of democracy in Indonesia (democratic regression). They acknowledge the threat to democracy in Indonesia posed by Islamic movements, and the government's policies are also seen undemocratic and have become a boomerang for democracy in Indonesia itself (Mietzner, 2018;Power, 2018;Warburton & Aspinall, 2019). ...
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Repressive approach is one of the state's responses to social movements taken to restrain or limit the action of a movement that always strives for a social change process in society. In this context, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam – FPI) are two Islamic groups that recently after 2016 have been active in pressuring the government on various political issues. The government responded to these two groups with repressive measures such as stigmatization, criminalization, and dissolving or banning the organization. This study aims to discuss the details of government policies in responding to both HTI and FPI in Indonesia using comparative analysis by collecting secondary data from the media, books, and journals relevant with this study. This study found that the Indonesian government has used various means to repress HTI and FPI, such as intimidation, stigmatization, and disbandment to the organizations.
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Government laws and regulations discriminating against religious minorities are on the rise worldwide. Scholars have debated whether or not society-based discrimination is a precondition for government-based discrimination. Examining an original dataset of regulations discriminating against the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia, this article argues that calls from within society to restrict the freedom of religious minorities are neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for the rise of discriminatory government regulations. Instead, governments may emulate other governments and adopt laws and regulations discriminating against religious minorities without any immediate societal pressure preceding it. Hence, future research needs to consider the interdependence between jurisdictions as an important driver of laws and regulations discriminating against religious minorities.
This article examines how states respond to the use of international pressure as an instrument for promoting freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). It applies the framework of stigma management to understand the responses of Indonesia to international pressure due to the imprisonment of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok for allegedly defaming Islam (2016–2017). This article argues that the responses were not monolithic. The state articulated a narrative that affirmed the importance of protecting FoRB, but also held that it is less urgent compared to respecting the rule of law and maintaining Indonesia’s sovereignty. The Indonesian Islamists disseminated a narrative that rejected the FoRB norms, framing them as an expression of Western hypocrisy. This variety of responses is reflective of the domestic political configuration. The state’s narrative was intended to appease the increasingly powerful Islamists and mitigate the international loss of reputation. The Islamists’ response, meanwhile, reflected their attempts to neutralize the influence of international discourses of FoRB on their projects to increase their domestic power. Combined, however, these discourses resulted in the justification of Ahok’s prosecution and the practice of Indonesian blasphemy laws.
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p> Asbtrak September 2019 menandai protes besar terhadap negara di Indonesia dan sering disebut sebagai protes terbesar sejak Reformasi, dari protes tersebut muncul #ReformasiDikorupsi, tetapi mereka gagal untuk mempertahankan resiliensi terhadap negara. Tulisan ini mencoba menjawab dua pertanyaan, pertama bagaimana dan mengapa #ReformasiDikorupsi muncul, kedua menapa #ReformasiDikorupsi gagal mempertahankan resiliensinya di hadapan negara. Tulisan ini akan menggunakan perspektif Teori Diskursus Politik dan Analisis Diskursus untuk menganalisa data guna menjawab dua pertanyaan di atas. Tulisan ini berargumen bahwa #ReformasiDikorupsi muncul dari tuntutan-tuntutan yang diabaikan oleh negara dan konstruksi #ReformasiDikorupsi dumungkinkan oleh satu kejadian dislokasi yang dapat dilihat sebagai upaya pelemahan KPK oleh negara dan rencana merevisi RKUHP yang secara langsung “mengancam” berbagai identitas. Kemudian, tulisan ini juga berargumen bahwa #ReformasiDikorupsi gagal mempertahankan resiliensinya karena hubungan mereka yang tidak jelas dan ambigu pada negara, atau hubungan antagonisme semu terhadap negara Abstract September 2019 marks a large mass protest towards the state in Indonesia and is often referred to as the largest mass protest since the Reformasi, from that mass protest #ReformasiDikorupsi emerges, yet it failed to maintain its resiliency to oppose the state. This article seeks to answer two questions, first how and why #ReformasiDikorupsi emerges, second why #ReformasiDikorupsi failed to maintain their resiliency towards the state. This article utilized the perspective of Political Discourse Theory and Discourse Analysis to analyze the data to answer those questions. This article argued that #ReformasiDikorupsi emerged from the demands that had been ignored by the state and the construction of #ReformasiDikorupsi made possible by a dislocation event which can be seen as an attempt to weaken KPK by the state and a plan to revise the criminal codebook which directly “threaten” vast amount of identity. Furthermore, this article also argued that #ReformasiDikorupsi failed to maintain their resiliency towards the state due to their unclear and ambiguous relation towards the state, or pseudo-antagonistic relationship towards the state. </p
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For more than a decade, the quality of democracy around the world has been declining, but we still know little about the diverse impacts of this democratic recession on environmental politics. This article provides new insights about the implications of democratic regression for environmental politics in Indonesia, which is Southeast Asia’s largest democracy, a globally important biodiversity hotspot, and an example of democratic decline. Based on an analysis of academic literature, international and Indonesian media reports, as well as survey data, this article argues that in Indonesia, democratic decline has had several detrimental consequences for environmental politics. In particular, we argue that the nationalist framing of infrastructure development, along with controversial new laws and tightening restrictions on both activists and academics are undermining prospects for environmental protection. The article also highlights some silver linings that provide hope for both Indonesia’s democracy and its embattled environment.
Despite the pragmatic character of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s foreign policy and the regression of the country’s democracy index, Indonesia remains eager for the continuation of Bali Democracy Forum (BDF). This article aims to solve this apparent contradiction using the concept of middle power diplomacy. This article argues that, in contrast to his predecessor, Widodo does not perceive BDF as an instrument to promote or project democracy abroad. Rather, Widodo considers the BDF to accentuate Indonesia’s leadership role in multilateral fora. This ‘middlepowermanship’ challenges the elite-based approach in explaining Indonesia’s foreign policy, which puts a strong emphasis on Jokowi’s personal character traits. The continuation of the BDF under Widodo reflects Indonesia’s default thinking of its status as a middle power.
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This article analyzes the articulation of Islamic thought in the 2014 and 2019 elections, both of which were marked by efforts by progressive and conservative Muslims to dominate public spaces. Contestation was evident in these political discourses, with progressive Muslims advocating for moderatism, political ethics, and tolerance in narratives of inclusivism, pluralism, and tolerance while conservative Muslims seminating extremism, the formalization of sharia law, and intolerance in narratives of exclusivism and homogenization. The analysis questions the continuity-discontinuity, motives, and actors of progressive and conservative Muslim movements and investigates the challenges for progressive Muslims in disseminating their narratives in Indonesia. The result argues that massive religious organizations in Indonesia such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama articulate, internalize, and institutionalize progressive thought within their organizations and educational institutions. This article further recommends progressive Muslims reckon and countermeasure conservativism among religious and political elites whose narratives exploit religious sentiments for practical purposes.
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2448 2591 Much of the debate on Jakarta’s recent gubernatorial elections, in which the Chinese-Christian incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (or ‘Ahok’) was defeated in a landslide, has focused on the role of religion (and, interrelatedly, ethnicity) in sealing Ahok’s fate. While some observers have viewed religious identity politics as the most decisive factor in the elections, others have pointed to class differences and Ahok’s unpopular policies as equally significant.
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There has been an intense scholarly debate about what caused the unprecedented Islamist mass demonstrations in Indonesia in late 2016. Some scholars have argued that increasing intolerance and conservatism among the Muslim population are responsible, while others have disputed such notions, claiming that there is no evidence of widespread support for an Islamist agenda. In this article, we analyse a unique set of polling data to show that a) conservative attitudes among Indonesian Muslims were declining rather than increasing prior to the mobilisation, but that b) around a quarter of Indonesian Muslims do support an Islamist socio-political agenda. Importantly, we demonstrate that this core constituency of conservative Muslims has grown more educated, more affluent and better connected in the last decade or so, increasing its organisational capacity. We argue that this capacity was mobilised at a time when conservative Muslims felt excluded from the current polity, following the end of a decade of accommodation.
This article examines the decline of Indonesia’s democratic institutions under President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) ahead of his 2019 re-election bid. It argues that the latter part of Jokowi’s first term has seen a downturn in the quality of Indonesian democracy, associated with the continued mainstreaming and legitimation of a conservative and anti-pluralistic brand of political Islam; the partisan manipulation of key institutions of state; and the increasingly open repression and disempowerment of political opposition. These trends have served to unbalance the democratic playing field, limit democratic choice, and reduce government accountability. This article first discusses the medium-term ramifications of the polarised 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election and their implications for 2018’s marquee political events: a major round of sub-national elections and the presidential nomination process. It then argues that the Jokowi government has taken an ‘authoritarian turn’ ahead of the 2019 elections, highlighting its manipulation of powerful law enforcement and security institutions for narrow, partisan purposes, as well as the administration’s concerted efforts to undermine and repress democratic opposition. Finally, it frames the 2019 election as a contest between two candidates—Jokowi and Prabowo Subianto–who display little regard for the democratic status quo. The declining quality of Indonesian democracy is particularly troubling in a global context of democratic recession.
The global rise of populist campaigns against democratic governments has revived the long-standing scholarly debate on how democracies can best defend themselves against anti-democratic challenges. While some view an aggressive militant democracy approach as the most effective option, others propose accommodation of populist actors and voters. Others again suggest a merging of the two paradigms. This article analyzes how the government of Indonesian President Jokowi has responded to the unprecedented Islamist-populist mobilization in the capital Jakarta in late 2016. Unsystematically mixing elements of all available options, Jokowi’s administration pursued a criminalization strategy against populists that violated established legal norms, and launched vaguely targeted but patronage-oriented accommodation policies. As a result, the government’s attempt to protect the democratic status quo from populist attacks turned into a threat to democracy itself. Indonesian democracy, I argue, is now in a slow but perceptible process of deconsolidation.
As political and societal polarization deepens, democracies are under stress around the world. This article examines the complex relationship and causal direction between democracy and polarization and posits three theoretical possibilities: (1) polarization contributes to democratic backsliding and decay, (2) polarization results from democratic crisis, and (3) polarization contributes to democratic deepening. We argue “politics” is central to polarization and identify as a key feature of the process of polarization the manner in which it simplifies the normal complexity of politics and social relations. Polarization does so by aligning otherwise unrelated divisions, emasculating cross-cutting cleavages, and dividing society and politics into two separate, opposing, and unyielding blocks. As such, it often has pernicious consequences for democracy, emerging as an intended or unintended consequence of political interest–based and purposeful political mobilization. Polarization over the very concept of democracy may also be the product of democratic crisis. Finally, in certain circumstances, polarization may strengthen democratic institutions and citizen choice. The article then introduces the articles in this issue that address these three theoretical and empirical possibilities.
Indonesia is the world's third largest democracy (after India and the USA) and the only fully democratic Muslim democracy, yet it remains little known in the comparative politics literature. This book aspires to do for Indonesian political studies what The American Voter did for American political science. It contributes a major new case, the world's largest Muslim democracy, to the latest research in cross-national voting behavior, making the unique argument that Indonesian voters, like voters in many developing and developed democracies, are 'critical citizens' or critical democrats. The analysis is based on original opinion surveys conducted after every national-level democratic election in Indonesia from 1999 to the present by the respected Indonesian Survey Institute and Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting. © Saiful Mujani, R. William Liddle, and Kuskridho Ambardi 2018. All rights reserved.
Right-wing politics in Indonesia is frequently associated with Islamic populist ideas. In part this is because Islamic organisations played a major role in the army-led destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party in the 1960s. Since then Islamic populism has evolved greatly and in post-authoritarian Indonesia it includes manifestations that see no fundamental contradiction between Islam and neo-liberal market economies as well as those that do. Significantly, like their counterparts in other countries, Indonesian Islamic populists maintain vigilance against the purveyors of class-based politics who may exert a divisive influence on the ummah. Thus, Indonesian Islamic populism shares with many of its counterparts a disdain for Leftist challenges to private property and capital accumulation besides political liberalism’s affinity to the secular national state. Yet strands of Islamic populism have relegated the project of establishing a state based on sharia to the background and embraced the democratic process. But this has not translated necessarily into social pluralist positions on a range of issues because the reinforcement of cultural idioms associated with Islam is required for the mobilisation of public support in contests over power and resources based on an ummah-based political identity.
Scholars have paid increasing attention to democratic backsliding, yet efforts to explain this phenomenon remain inchoate. This article seeks to place the study of democratic backsliding on sturdier conceptual, operational, and theoretical foundations. Conceptually, the challenge of backsliding is to define changes that take place within a political regime. Methodologically, the challenge involves measurement of intraregime changes, as alternative coding schemes change the population of units that have experienced democratic backsliding. Theoretical challenges are dual: First, despite a rich and diverse literature, we lack readily available theories to explain backsliding, and second, the theoretical debates that do exist - centered on the causes of democratic transitions, democratic breakdowns, authoritarian resilience, and democratic consolidation - remain unresolved. We consider how these theories might be called into service to explain backsliding. By doing so, the article aims to set the terms of the debate to create a common focal point around which research can coalesce.