Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

The Impact of Domestic and Asian Regional Changes on Indonesian Foreign Policy

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

The Impact of Domestic and Asian Regional Changes on Indonesian Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

The past decade has seen fundamental and dramatic changes in Indonesian national politics which have affected all aspects of public life. The forced resignation of President Suharto amid the Asian financial crisis in May 1998 ended the stranglehold of the authoritarian New Order regime which had ruled Indonesia for thirty-two years, and ushered in a new reformasi era characterized by rejection of many key features of the New Order. In a zeal to outlaw authoritarianism and build a more pluralistic democracy, Indonesia carried out four successive amendments to the 1945 constitution which, among others, abolished the social-political role of the armed forces, ensure a clear separation of power between the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary, enshrine the principles of human rights in the constitution, and allow the development of a truly multiparty system. To prevent the rise of another long-term leader like Suharto who was able to manipulate the Consultative Assembly to elect him for seven consecutive five-year terms, the presidential term has been limited to two non-renewable five-year terms while the president and vicepresident are to be directly elected by the people. As a reaction to the overt centralization under the New Order which gave little room for regional initiatives, the post-Suharto governments have also introduced sweeping regional autonomy.

After difficult early years of transition, marked by various internal conflicts and political instability, relative normalcy and political stability seemed to have been restored by 2004 as Indonesia succeeded in holding its first direct presidential election, affirming its status as the world's third-largest democracy. The newly democratic Indonesia recognizes freedoms of expression and association as key principles, giving rise to a vibrant and increasingly critical civil society, freewheeling media, and numerous political parties. These fundamental changes in Indonesia's political landscape have led to a re-structuring of relations between the state and society, between the central government and the regional governments, and between the various institutions of the state, which in turn has transformed the ways that decisions are made. One of the key areas affected by these political changes is in the making and implementation of Indonesian foreign policy, which during the previous era had been the prerogative solely of the predominant executive.

Besides the political transformation which has changed some of the ways that Indonesia looked at itself and the world, including new foreign policy priorities and strategies, Indonesia's economic development in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis has also affected its regional and global standing. After several years of turning inward to deal with its myriad domestic problems, Indonesia's recent economic recovery - though its growth has been well below the pre-crisis level - and its relative ability to weather the latest global financial meltdown which started in the United States in early 2008, has helped to improve Indonesia's international image and also injected a new sense of self-confidence in the articulation and implementation of its foreign policy.

While domestic political changes have influenced the way decisions are made, introduced new national priorities, and influenced how these priorities are expressed, the changing regional dynamics have also led to some re-alignments in Indonesia's external relations. The rise of major regional powers, China and India, has re-focused Indonesia's attention on these two countries, particularly on the former, reviving memories of the particularly close relations between Jakarta and Beijing throughout the 1950s till the mid 1960s under President Sukarno. At the same time relations with other key regional and global powers have also reached new heights, including with Australia and the United States, indicating that Indonesia's "Free and Active" foreign policy principle could in fact only really be implemented in the post-Cold War international political climate. …

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