Activists in Transition: Progressive Politics in Democratic Indonesia
Time & LocationSession 10
Fri 11:00–12:30 Room 1.101
- Michele Ford University of Sydney
- Olle Törnquist University of Oslo
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- Activists in Transition: Social Movements and Democratization in Indonesia Michele Ford University of Sydney
Collectively, progressive social movements have played a critical role over in ensuring that different groups of citizens can engage directly in—and benefit from—Indonesia’s political process in a way that was not possible under authoritarianism. However, their individual roles have been different, with some playing a decisive role in the destabilization of the regime and others serving as bell-weathers of the advancement, or otherwise, of Indonesia’s democracy in the decades since. Equally importantly, democratization has affected social movements differently depending on the form taken by each movement during the New Order period, their capacity to navigate the opportunities and challenges presented by regime change and the actions of successive democratically elected governments, but also of influential counter-movements. This paper examines the collective contribution of progressive social movements to Indonesia’s transition to democracy and their collective fate in the decades since. Having explained how we understand the relationship between social movements and democratic transition, it examines the role of progressive social movements as a driver of democratization and common patterns of engagement with a newly democratic state.
- Democratization and Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Movement Elisabeth Kramer University of Sydney
This paper asks what role the anti-corruption movement has played in driving democratic processes in Indonesia since the New Order and, conversely, how the movement has fared in the post-Reformasi era. Interrogating this relationship provides an opportunity to understand why corruption continues to exist, and in some cases thrive, in Indonesia today despite very prominent and vocal anti-corruption advocacy from activists. This paper asserts two key arguments. Firstly, it contends that anti-corruption protests, though stifled during the New Order, contributed to the broader movement for Reformasi that forced Suharto’s resignation in 1998. Secondly, the paper asserts that although Reformasi has afforded the anti-corruption movement more political space to organize and vocalize dissent, it has not been smooth sailing. The anti-corruption movement continues to demand fairer and more democratic government but faces institutional and structural barriers to progress. The challenges faced by anti-corruption activists in advocating for better transparency and accountability processes reflect an ultimately incomplete project of democratization in Indonesia —a project that has stalled in recent years.
- Student Movements and Indonesia’s Democratic Transition Yatun Sastramidjaja University of Amsterdam
This paper traces the changing political role of student movements in the context of democratic transition, from “political vanguard” that pushed the struggle against Suharto’s New Order regime, to “orphans of democracy” that led an increasingly marginalized political existence. The student movement’s origins in authoritarianism – including the historical myths created around its collective identity as a united “moral force” and “agents of change” – made it difficult for post-New Order student movements to adjust to the new democratic conditions, where the expanded political freedoms reduce the need for students to act on behalf of “the people.” Democratization thus made the student movement irrelevant, and what remains of it has since struggled to forge a new identity for itself. Recently, the 2019 elections provided a new momentum for student activists to make themselves heard, while simultaneously distancing themselves from the “practical politics” of the elections. Rather, many rallied behind the grander cause of the “unfinished struggle for (economic) independence,” which they often framed in terms of Sukarnoist ideology. By thus bypassing the democratic political arena, the student movement created a new role for itself in revisiting old themes of struggle, yet in doing so repeated self-defeating patterns.
- Urban Poor Activism and Political Agency in Post-New Order Indonesia Ian Wilson Murdoch University
Post-authoritarian Indonesia has experienced increases in levels of urban poverty and income inequality, yet not seen the kinds of mass movements of the urban poor experienced elsewhere. Applying a social relational understanding of the poor as a class that depends upon more powerful actors to secure everyday needs, it is argued in the paper that urban poor agency and activism in Indonesia remains shaped and constrained by the condition constitutive of poverty. It has operated on two main fronts. The first is the politics of the everyday, the incremental and fragmented daily struggles to get by. The second is in ‘defensive’ forms of action, involving defending gains and responding individually or collectively to immediate threats to livelihoods, assets and security. Because modes of adverse socioeconomic incorporation are both complex and risky, the urban poor have little choice but to hedge their bets via multiple strategies with respect to both resources and alliances, which helps to explain seemingly contradictory political allegiances. Engagement in electoral politics has focused on the identification of ‘pro-poor’ champions within political elites and increasingly the use of political contracts as a means of extracting concessions and redistributions. Both have had decidedly mixed results
Studies of regime change have shown that progressive social movements disseminate ideas about democracy amongst the wider population and mobilize opposition to undemocratic regimes. Less attention has been paid to the fate of social movements once that regime change occurs. Focusing on the students, labour, the urban poor and the anti-corruption movement, the papers in this panel track the trajectory of different social movements’ engagement in the political sphere from the short-lived period of openness in the late 1980s–early 1990s and the twenty-year anniversary of the fall of Indonesia’s New Order regime in 2018. In locating progressive social movements at the center of their analysis, they do not seek to privilege them to the exclusion of elite proponents of democracy. Many have argued that the country is controlled by an oligarchy whose powerbase is rooted in pre-democratic times, and even assessments that challenge the fatalism of such accounts acknowledge the ongoing influence of long-established political and economic elites. There are also deep-seated features of Indonesia’s political system, like clientalism, that hinder democratic practice. Nevertheless, progressive social movements have continued to fight for what Beetham (1999, 91) describes as the “basic” principles of democracy, namely “control by citizens over their collective affairs and equality between citizens in the exercise of that control.”