The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2018 55 Edmund McWilliams, a retired Senior Foreign Service officer, was political counselor in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999. Between 1975 and 2001, he opened and served in U.S. embassies in Bishkek and Dushanbe, and also served in Vientiane, Bangkok, Moscow, Kabul, Islam- abad, Managua and Washington, D.C. Since retiring from the Service, he has volunteered with U.S. and foreign human rights nongovern- mental organizations. The author dedicates this article to the memory of Isa Gartini, a longtime employee of Embassy Jakarta who worked tirelessly to im- prove the observance of human rights and promote democratization in Indonesia. She passed away in January. On the 20th anniversary of its democratic experiment, Indonesia can cite significant gains. Growing challenges may threaten that progress. BY EDMUND MCWI L L I AMS W ith a population of more than 260 million and an economy that ranks tenth in the world, Indonesia appears destined to be one of the major international players of the 21st century. Since the 1998 overthrow of H. Muhammad Suharto’s dictatorship, the country has cut its poverty rate in half, and its per capita gross domestic Democracy in Indonesia A PROGRESS REPORT ON DEMOCRACY FOCUS product now exceeds $3,500. And despite the weight of decades of dictatorial rule, post-Suharto Indonesia has made steady prog- ress toward becoming a full and functioning democracy. That evolution was not widely expected. Many Indonesians who had served in the Suharto administration declared in the wake of the dictator’s fall that Indonesia was “not ready for democracy.” As others ruefully observed, however, “That is what the Dutch told us.” Those who had faith in the promise of Indonesia’s democratic experiment have largely been vindicated. In addition to Parlia- ment and other political institutions, an array of nongovernmen- tal organizations focused on the defense of democracy, human rights and the environment have emerged. It is also noteworthy that just one of Indonesia’s presidents in the post-Suharto era has been a military figure. Still, the country faces many of the same challenges today that it faced 20 years ago. An entrenched elite who benefited from years of association with the Suharto regime, including those with ties to the powerful Indonesian military, remains in place. Despite the sharp reduction in poverty, half the population is economically vulnerable and, according to the World Bank, the wealth gap is growing. Uneven health and educational services, and the activity of radical sectarian elements create additional social pressures.