The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2018 59 was elevated to the governorship when Jakarta’s then governor, Joko Widodo, was elected president of Indonesia in 2014. Despite very high job-approval ratings, Ahok’s loss was widely seen as the result of his Chinese-Chris- tian lineage. However, another fac- tor was the release of a video of an Ahok speech that had been altered to make it appear he was insulting Islam. The winning candidate, Anies Baswedan, ran an explicitly sectar- ian campaign and appeared before the radical Islamic Defenders Front to court its support as a Muslim. Adding insult to injury, shortly after his defeat Ahok was convicted of blasphemy, and is cur- rently serving a two-year sentence. An Uneven Record Indonesian democracy has made impressive strides, particularly in light of its long repression. The rapid emer- gence of nongovernmental organizations focused on defense of democracy, human rights and the environment incubated a mostly young cadre of Indonesians who have played substan- tial roles in assisting at the birth of Indonesia's democracy. Their vision and courage, along with that of a vibrant print and broadcast media, have provided a stable basis for its further development. Yet the country continues to face many of the same economic and political challenges it confronted when the Suharto regime fell. While poverty rates have been cut in half over the last 20 years, 10 percent of the population remains below the poverty line; another 40 percent is described by the World Bank as vul- nerable to falling below that line. The World Bank also notes that the wealth gap is growing. Radical sectarian elements, particu- larly militant Islam, as well as political opportunists among the old elite who fear the rise of democratic forces, will undoubtedly continue to exploit the resulting social unrest to destabilize the democratic process in Indonesia. Corrupt and impervious to calls for its accountability before the Indonesian judiciary, the Indonesian military conducts itself very much as a Suharto-era institution, with no strong commit- ment to the observance of human rights or democratic norms. This is especially apparent in West Papua, where it has ruthlessly repressed democratic and pro-independence activists much as it did in East Timor and Aceh. Its influence in the political realm and its access to significant financial, training and other assis- tance from abroad, including the United States, render it largely immune to ongoing calls for reform. Advocates of U.S. assistance to the Indonesian military have long argued that such support, in particular training for senior Indonesia officers, exposes the Indonesian military to U.S. values and the proper role of the military in society. Critics of this support point out that some of the most egregious human rights abuses were committed during the Suharto years, when U.S.-Indonesian military cooperation was broadest. Critics also point out that some of those Indonesian military officers with strongest ties to the U.S. military, including Generals Wiranto and Prabowo, have the darkest human rights records. These critics of U.S.-Indonesian military ties argue that the prospect of U.S. assis- tance should be employed to press for reforms of the Indonesian military. U.S. government support for democratization and respect for human rights has included training and other assistance for the Indonesian police. The national police force neverthe- less remains significantly corrupt, and its human rights record, including treatment of detainees, remains a problem. U.S. government support for and cooperation with Indonesian NGOs, especially those advocating reform and respect for human rights, has had a positive impact. Accordingly, despite significant progress and the courageous work of its reform-minded citizens, Indonesia’s democratic experiment remains very much a work in progress. n In May 1998 Indonesian students demonstrating for democracy and for President Suharto to step down took over the Parliament compound. This photo was taken after Suharto had ceded power to his vice president, B.J. Habibie. The red banners read “Return wealth to the people” (far left), “We Reject Habibie” (middle) and “Justice for Soeharto & Co” (far right). SHAWNDORMAN