Hindrances to Democracy and
Modernization in Indonesia
Fred R. von der Mehden
Indonesia is not only the most populous Muslim country, but also one of the biggest and newest democracies striving to modernize its economy. However, it has attained this position only after experiencing decades of political and economic difficulties. To understand why Indonesia faced such a rocky road, it is necessary to analyze the country's development in the light of its colonial and postcolonial history and the fundamentals of the republic's economic and political infrastructure. It is the contention of this chapter that democracy and modernization can best be achieved with an educated population, a well-trained bureaucracy, a sense of national identity rather than ethnic and religious fragmentation, and elite and mass support for democratic values. Hindrances to these desirable foundations are analyzed, followed by an assessment of the impact of Islam on contemporary efforts to attain modernization and democracy.
Three centuries of Dutch colonial rule provided Indonesia with experience with a money economy, developed the archipelago's natural resources, and established a rudimentary representative political system. However, twentieth-century colonial policies resulted in a number of conditions that had negative implications for independent Indonesia's efforts to achieve democracy and modernization. This was particularly true with regard to education, bureaucratic, economic, and political experience, and the development of a sense of national identity.
The Dutch did not develop a well-educated population at the mass or elite level. The 1930 census, the last complete accurate count during the colonial pe