President Suharto's resignation on 21 May 1998, under conditions of widespread disorder, launched Indonesia into uncharted political waters. Despite initiating major political reforms, his immediate successor, President Habibie, lacked adequate legitimacy to survive. Abdurrachman Wahid became Indonesia's first democratically elected President in October 1999. Despite achieving important democratic changes, his presidency has operated under severe strains from the outset (ICG 2001c) and currently appears unsustainable. Wahid's commitment to religious and cultural pluralism and tolerance has not spared Indonesia from extensive inter-ethnic and religious violence, social and political disorder.
Underlying causes of continuing crisis reach beyond personalities to fundamental problems of democratic transition. While Thailand and the Philippines are undergoing similar transitions, Indonesia historically lacks both the continuity of Thailand's core institutions and the Philippines' democratic legal and constitutional infrastructure. Contemporary struggles display both continuity and discontinuity, rooted in Indonesia's unique history, political and cultural configurations. Human rights issues must be understood within a similar frame of reference.
The first part of the chapter identifies relevant ideological and institutional inheritances from Suharto's 'New Order', featuring both government and civil society, including NGO, labour and Islamic discourses surrounding human rights and democracy issues. These reflect conflict between communitarian and liberal-democratic outlooks familiar from earlier chapters. The account traces the beginnings of change under Suharto into the post-1998 period, including constitutional reform, military-civilian relations, the economic crisis and regional devolution, particularly the strained situation in Aceh and Irian Jaya. The final section reviews current trends in human rights policy, particularly the role of Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and politics surrounding recent human rights legislation.
Indonesia declared independence on 17 August 1945, although Holland did not finally surrender sovereignty until November 1949. Conflicts fought out during these four years (Kahin 1952; Reid 1974) vitally influenced subsequent political