After taking over from the private Dutch East India Company in 1800, the Dutch government runs the Netherlands East Indies directly. Local rulers are replaced or integrated into the colonial bureaucracy. From 1908, students, Muslims, and others form organizations that begin to make up a nationalist movement. In response, the Dutch create the Volksraad in 1918, a powerless advisory council.
Internal splits and state suppression of Muslim and communist movements in 1926 and '27 allow control of the nationalist movement to shift to secular, Dutch-educated elites. Influenced by Western liberalism or Marxism, they found the Indonesian Nationalist Party under Sukarno's leadership, advocating an independent Indonesian nation. Many of the movement's leaders are soon imprisoned and exiled.
The Japanese invaders keep the Dutch administrative system, still ruling through local elites. First welcomed as liberators, the Japanese prove brutal and totalitarian. Under the Japanese, nationalists build networks in an increasingly politicized society. The Japanese allow political activity, the unifying Indonesian language, and even militias, especially late in the war, to block recolonization.
The Japanese surrender and Indonesia proclaims independence, sparking war with the Dutch. Most occupation-era institutions are replaced by a short 1945 constitution which provides for a strong presidency, although a parliament is soon added by decree. After four years of fighting and negotiations, international pressure forces the Dutch to recognize Indonesia.
A 1950 constitution replaces the federal state urged by the Dutch with a unitary republic. The constitution creates a tumultuous democracy, with a strong parliament, weak president, and checks and balances to prevent abuses. Weak institutions lead to confusion and regional rebellions, some CIA-supported. Inconclusive elections in 1955 don't improve stability, and Sukarno imposes martial law in 1957.
Sukarno replaces parliamentary democracy with a populist semi-dictatorship, reverting to the 1945 constitution. Under an increasingly authoritarian Guided Democracy, Sukarno wields ever more personal power while using patronage and charisma to juggle three power blocs: communists, the army, and Muslim groups. The army is granted representation in parliament, the Cabinet, and the bureaucracy.
Sukarno's attempts to balance the army, Islam, and the communists end in a violent change of government. Responding to an alleged leftist coup, the unknown Gen. Suharto has the army and Muslims eliminate the world's third largest communist party, killing over half a million suspected communists and arresting a million more. Over several months Suharto maneuvers Sukarno out of power.
Suharto's bureaucratic authoritarian New Order represses dissent from students, journalists, workers, and politicians. The military assumes a social and political role as well as a military one, occupying key positions in the legislative and executive branches.
All remaining parties are consolidated into the Muslim PPP, the nationalist-Christian PDI, and the ruling Golkar. The two "opposition" parties are prevented from direct campaigning and are tightly controlled, allowing Golkar to win majorities in the elections held every five years and ensuring Suharto's selection unopposed.
The Asian economic crisis sparks massive protests, at last forcing Suharto to step down. Vice president B.J. Habibie, a Suharto protege and longtime economic nationalist, assumes power and announces the first democratic elections since 1955.
The president is still selected indirectly by elected and appointed representatives, but elections are now free and fair. The nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) beats out 45 parties, but can't form a coalition. Moderate Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid is sworn in for a five-year term. Wahid proves erratic and only partly succeeds in reducing the political role of the army.
After two years in office, Wahid is ousted by an extraordinary vote of the parliament. Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, Sukarno's daughter, is named president. East Timor becomes independent, ending a long conflict that tarnished Indonesia's image; the government signs a deal with rebels in Aceh and grants Irian Jaya autonomy, renaming it Papua. The Bali bombing damages confidence.
back to top