Chapter 6: The Reform Era, 1999 to the Present

With Suharto removed from office, it was by no means clear what direction Indonesian politics would head. Cynics saw President Habibie as Suharto’s man, a tool of New Order interests who would ensure that Indonesia remained a corrupt autocracy with national wealth and political power concentrated in the hands of a military-dominated Jakarta elite. Others hoped for a democratic transition comparable to that which had taken place in South Korea and Spain after the demise of long dictatorships. Still others saw authoritarianism as the only recipe for stability and development and they feared that Suharto’s departure would mark the start of a period of drift and chaos. In the event, a part of all these predictions came true.

The hopeful view of change was reflected in the name era reformasi (reform era) that was sometimes given, partly in anticipation, to the post-Suharto period. Although Habibie confirmed some of dismal expectations of his rule by refusing to pursue Suharto seriously for the crimes of the New Order, he began systematically to dismantle the vexatious repressive apparatus of New Order control, and sent Indonesia careening down unexpected democratic paths.

Habibie’s initial package of reforms swiftly disposed of many of the most egregious excesses of the New Order. He lifted the Suharto era controls on press freedom, presiding over a flowering of newspapers and radio stations which suddenly gave Indonesians a multitude of political voices to hear. He removed the heavy-handed imposition of Pancasila orthodoxy as a state ideology, re-opening public discussion about what kind of nation Indonesia should be. He cut Suharto’s children off from their former privileged access to licences, concessions and credit. He separated the police from the armed forces. He released the handful of political prisoners still held by the regime from the distant time of the destruction of the Communist Party. He lifted the ban on public use of Chinese characters and the public celebration of Chinese festivals.

Two features of the New Order, however, proved to be stubbornly resistant to reform. First was corruption. As the fog of New Order political control lifted and as the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis stripped the gloss from the New Order’s economic achievements, it became increasingly clear that corruption was so deeply embedded in the social and political order that no simple measures could remove it. Self-interested decisions by powerholders, kickbacks for decisions favourable to others in every area of economic decision-making and in the courts, and systematic skimming of public funds for private profit, remained a blight on the Indonesian system. Early in the reform era, authorities failed dismally to impose proportionate punishment on the corrupt, not only the Suharto family but also other high profile figures and seemed unable to have any impact on the routine and debilitating corruption of the bureaucracy. Indonesia had to develop from scratch a mechanism for the effective prosecution of corruption in public life. Nonetheless, by 2004 the courts had begun to hear an increasing number of corruption cases involving officials and had begun to record convictions in at least some cases. In 2005, the governor of Aceh was jailed for 10 years on corruption charges, in 2006 a former religious affairs minister received 5 years, and in 2007 a former maritime affairs and fisheries minister received 7 years.

Corruption investigations of bupati (regional heads) in 2007

The second feature of the New Order which resisted reform was the independence of the armed forces, and especially of its intelligence sections. This independence from civilian scrutiny was based partly in thousands of military-owned businesses that were beyond the purview of parliamentary audit and which gave the military access to what were effectively secret funds. Although the government planned to bring these businesses under formal state control, by 2007 no more than a handful had been identified and transferred. Sections of the armed forces continued to obtain significant income by providing security for large firms on a private contract basis. A 2002 ambush of vehicles near the Freeport McMoRan gold and copper mine in Papua, in which three teachers, including two Americans, were killed, seems to have been connected to disagreements between security forces and the mine managers over protection payments, although the attack was attributed at the time to the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, Free Papua Movement). Financial independence underpinned a continuing habit of clandestine operations against what sections of the military saw as regime enemies. In November 2001, security forces murdered the Papuan leader Theys Eluay, while in September 2004 the human rights activist Munir was murdered by poisoning on a flight to Amsterdam. The precise responsibility for Munir’s murder has not been established, but strong circumstantial evidence has emerged to link it to the security forces.

Despite these failures, Habibie set in train a mechanism for structural reform which led to far-reaching changes in the political order, though not all these changes were apparent during his relatively brief term in office. In a series of constitutional reforms and enabling legislation, the Indonesian military was stripped of its representation in parliament and the legislature (DPR) was made entirely elective. The electoral laws which permitted only Golkar, the PPP and the PDI to contest elections were repealed. A new parliamentary chamber, the Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (Regional Representative Council) was created as a kind of Senate, with four representatives from each province. These two chambers sitting together constituted the Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat (MPR, People’s Deliberative Council), which was still the highest institution of the state. Gone, thus, were the appointed members of the old MPR – 50% of the total – who had ensured Suharto’s absolute control of this key body. Alongside the new parliamentary structure was also a Constitutional Court with the authority to rule on the constitutional validity of any piece of legislation. A Bill of Rights gave Indonesians for the first time a legislative basis for claiming human rights.


In 1999 Indonesia held its first free elections since 1957. The results were dominated by parties and organizations from the New Order: Golkar, PPP and PDI-P, along with Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party), which had its base in the Nahdatul Ulama, and Parta Amanat Nasional (PAN, National Mandate Party) with a similar though less robust base in Muhammadiyah.

National elections 1999: Golkar

National elections 1999: PDI-P and PKB

National elections 1999: PPP, PAN and ‘Pool 1'

The 2004 elections for the DPR showed a significant fragmentation of the party system in comparison with 1999 as the older parties lost ground. There was a combined swing of 20% against the top five parties in 1999 (Golkar, PDIP, PPP, PKB and PAN) and a corresponding rise in the vote for small and new parties, notably the Partai Demokrat of presidential candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Islamist Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS, Prosperous Justice Party) and Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB, Moon and Star Party).

Parliamentary election results 2004, central Indonesia

Parliamentary election results 2004, eastern Indonesia

Parliamentary election results 2004, eastern Java

Parliamentary election results 2004, Sumatra

Parliamentary election results 2004, western Java

The reforms and the stronger democratic credentials of the parliament brought a fundamental change in the position of the president in the Indonesian political system. Although president remained the head of the executive, and the post continued to command high prestige, he or she became far more dependent on the parliament, whose members were now not beholden to him for their positions. The president, rather, could now be called to account by parliament for his or her actions, and could be removed from office by parliamentary vote. Habibie’s presidency was effectively ended in October 1999 by parliament’s refusal to accept his accountability speech. Although his party, Golkar, had done well enough in the parliamentary elections to make him a credible candidate, he withdrew when it became clear that he would not get parliamentary support. His successor, Abdurrachman Wahid, came to power by virtue of canny campaigning amongst parliament members and he, too, lost office when he lost the confidence of parliament in 2001. The decline of presidential authority was partly reversed by a parliamentary decision in 2002 that the president would be chosen directly by the electorate. Wahid’s successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was daughter of the country’s first president, lost the first election in 2004 to former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known popularly as SBY. Even with the advantage of a popular mandate, however, SBY faced a parliament which continued to put its own stamp on legislation.

First round runners up in the 2004 presidential; election, by province.

First round winners of the 2004 presidential election, by province

Indonesia’s democratic consolidation was further confirmed by the peaceful parliamentary elections of April 2009. Up for election were 560 seats in the DPR, spread across 77 multi-member electorates (the number of seats per electorate ranged from three to ten), as well as 132 seats in the DPD, four for each province. The DPR elections were contested by 44 parties, though not all competed in every electorate. Candidates for the DPR were grouped by party, but voters could choose to vote for any individual and some unpopular or ineffective party leaders lost their seats. Candidates for the DPD did not officially run as party representatives. 171 million voters were registered, and 121 million actually cast votes, of which 104 were valid. Eight parties won more than 2.5% of the vote, thus passing the threshold for entry into parliament: 


% of vote 2004

% of vote 2009

Number of seats

% of seats

Partai Demokrat (Demokrat)





Partai Golongan Karya (Golkar)





Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDIP)





Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS)





Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN)





Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP)





Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB)





Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya (Gerindra)




Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat (Hanura)





The result showed a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of the Partai Demokrat of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a corresponding decline in all the other parties, except for two newcomers: Gerindra, the electoral vehicle of the son-in-law of former President Suharto, former general Prabowo Subianto, and Hanura, the vehicle of Wiranto, who had been armed forces commander in the final stages of the Suharto regime. Both new parties were abundantly funded and conducted lavish advertising campaigns in the run-up to the election. Although their parties polled well enough to win representation in parliament, they were in no position to become power-brokers in the new parliament and both generals were reported to be deeply disappointed with the result. The success of the Partai Demokrat was largely due to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s performance as president. Observers were divided over the relative importance of his general administrative competence, his serious anti-corruption drive and a massive programme of government payments to poorer sections of the public in compensation for increases in the cost of living. It is particularly noteworthy that there was a decline in support for parties identified as somewhat Islamist (promoting the introduction of Islamic norms in public life), despite growing signs of public Islamic observance.

DPR election results in Sumatra, 2009

DPR election results in western Java, 2009

DPR election results in eastern Java, 2009

DPR election results in Kalimantan, Bali and Nusatenggara Barat, 2009

DPR election results in eastern Indonesia, 2009

In the same poll, voters also elected representatives to regional assemblies (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah, DPRD) at both provincial and kabupaten/kota (district/city) level. Not all results at this level were readily available at the time of going to press, but indications are that there was a dramatic turnover of assembly membership at both provincial and kabupaten/kota level, with often as few as a quarter of the previous members being re-elected. By contrast, the performance of the parties themselves was fairly consistent between national and provincial level. The smaller number of votes needed to win election at provincial and kabupaten/kota level meant that several smaller parties that failed to win representation in the DPR nonetheless won seats in the DPRD, but only in a few electorates (daerah pemilihan, dapil,DP) did DPRD results diverge markedly from DPR results.

DPR election results in eastern Indonesia, 2009

DPRD election results for 2009, North Sumatra

Indonesia’s second direct presidential election was held on 8 July 2009 under rules that allowed nominations only from parties, or coalitions of parties, that had received at least 25% or more of the popular vote or had won 20% or more of the seats in the parliament. Under these rules, only three candidate teams emerged: the incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who chose a respected economist, Boediono, as his running mate; Megawati Sukarnoputri, who ran with the former Special Forces commander Prabowo Subianto in a team colloquially known as Mega-Pro; and the incumbent vice-president Jusuf Kalla, who ran with former armed forces commander Wiranto in the JK-Win team. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was supported by a coalition of parties centred on his Partai Demokrat, Megawati by the PDI-P and Kalla by Golkar.

Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had seemed in 2008 to be vulnerable to defeat, he won the first round of the voting comfortably with 60.8 of the vote, against Megawati’s 26.8% and Kalla’s 12.4%.

Presidential election results, 2009

Party versus presidential performance in the 2009 elections, Java

Party versus presidential performance in the 2009 elections, Sumatra

Party versus presidential performance in the 2009 elections, central Indonesia

Party versus presidential performance in the 2009 elections, eastern Indonesia

Decentralization and Secession

Just as significant in the political transformation of Indonesia was a programme of political and decentralization which shifted responsibility for a wide range of administrative from the central government to the level of kabupaten (district) and kota (city). As part of the same process, the heads of provinces, kabupaten and kota were also to be directly elected, rather than being chosen by the provincial, district and city councils, with strong input from the centre, as under the New Order. Administrative devolution was a reaction to the New Order’s high degree of centralization and it was widely hoped that it would bring government closer to the people. The decision to devolve power to kabupaten rather than provinces, however, was made to diminish the risk that newly empowered provinces might seek to break away from Indonesia altogether. In the atmosphere of political freedom following the fall of the New Order, people in many parts of Indonesia – Bali, Riau, Sulawesi, Kalimantan – began to canvass the hitherto impossible idea of seeking independence from Indonesia. Although serious secessionist sentiment existed only in the already dissident regions of East Timor, Aceh and Irian Jaya, the wider talk of breakup seriously alarmed the Jakarta elite.

Speculative map of the borders of a dismantled Indonesia

Java, regional elections, 2005-2007

Provincial governor elections (pilkada), 2005-2007

Indonesia’s sense of vulnerability to secession was exacerbated by President Habibie’s early decision to allow what amounted to a referendum in the reluctant province of East Timor on the issue of independence. East Timorese voters, including both Indonesians who had settled in the province and the large East Timorese diaspora, were invited to cast a verdict on a proposal for far-reaching autonomy for the territory; if the vote went against the proposal, then East Timor would be deemed to have opted for independence. In the event, the vote on 30 August 1999 was overwhelmingly in favour of independence: 78.5% in favour, with a turnout of 98.6%. The aftermath of this outcome reflected the Indonesian military’s continuing predilection for independent, clandestine operations. The military coordinated an operation by local anti-independence militia to wreak a terrible revenge on East Timor over the course of two weeks in which pro-independence activists were murdered, a large proportion of the territory’s infrastructure was destroyed and perhaps 200,000 people fled across the border into the relative safety of West Timor. It seems likely that the violence was partly simply vengeful against the East Timorese for rejecting Indonesia, but it also had the purpose of warning other regions that attempts at secession would have terrible consequences. International outrage over the events in East Timor put impossible pressure on Habibie and on 12 September he agreed to allow an international peacekeeping force to be deployed there. The MPR finally ratified East Timor’s departure from Indonesia as the independent state of Timor Leste on 19 October 1999.

The independence of East Timor focussed immediate attention on Aceh, where an armed independence movement, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) had been active since the 1980s. Although formal martial law (under which Aceh was designated a Military Operations Area [Daerah Operasi Militer, DOM]) was ended in 1998, brutal army occupation of the province continued, punctuated by massacres of suspected rebels and the displacement of around an eighth of the province’s four million people. Following East Timor’s departure, there were immediate, widespread calls within Aceh for a similar referendum, despite the disquieting precedent the Indonesian army had set in Timor. Following inconclusive negotiations, the Jakarta government introduced a law in August 2001, providing for Special Autonomy in Aceh and renaming the province Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam (literally State of Aceh, Abode of Peace, Darussalam also being a term sometimes used to designate an Islamic state). The law allocated a larger share of resource royalties to the provincial government, allowed the implementation of Islamic law in Aceh and provided increased powers to the governor. The arrangement was widely criticized as unsatisfactory, because it still allowed no place for GAM in the political order, because it increased opportunities for corruption within the richer and less-monitored provincial government, and because by no means all Acehnese wanted to see the implementation of Islamic law. Further negotiations led to a cessation hostilities agreement implemented from early 2003, but a durable solution seemed impossible until the 2004 tsunami acted unexpectedly as a circuit-breaker in the conflict, allowing the two sides to meet in Helsinki. There, the secessionist movement, GAM, agreed to drop its claim for independence and to surrender its weapons in exchange for the right to participate as an explicitly local party in provincial elections. This arrangement was a departure from Indonesia’s previous insistence that all legal parties must have a national membership and focus. The agreement was confirmed in a new Special Autonomy law for Aceh passed in July 2006. A former GAM figure, Irwandi Yusuf, won the election for provincial governor in Aceh in December 2006. The rule permitting local parties remained in force for the 2009 elections for the Aceh provincial assembly (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Aceh, DPRA), held in conjunction with the national elections. Six local parties contested the election, but the result was dominated by the new Partai Aceh, which was based in the GAM leadership. The party won 33 of the 69 seats in the DPRA.

Aceh's provincial election, 2006

National elections 2009 in Aceh

The new regime also made efforts to seek a solution to the problem of dissent in Irian Jaya. In 1999, the Habibie government had announced a division of the province into three, a move widely seen as an attempt to divide and weaken the Papuan movement. Protests broke out in Papua and the division had not been implemented by the time Habibie left office. In May–June 2000 a broad congress of Papuans held in Port Numbay (Jayapura) called unequivocally for independence. President Wahid responded by ruling out independence but offering special autonomous status within Indonesia. As a first step, he announced that the province would be renamed ‘Papua’ and in 2001 the Indonesian parliament passed a Special Autonomy law for the province giving it an increased share of natural resources royalties (up to 80%), creating a Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua) as a formal body to protect indigenous rights and cultures, and allowing use of the previously banned West Papua flag. The 2001 law also prohibited further partition of the province without the consent of local institutions. The pro-independence Papua Presidium Council (Dewan Presidium Papua) rejected the law, but its leader, Theys Eluay, was kidnapped and murdered by security forces a few weeks later. In practice, moreover, there was little movement towards autonomy and the Papuan People’s Council was not instituted. Then in 2003 President Megawati re-announced the division of the province into three, embarrassing Papuan leaders who had argued in favour of trying to make Special Autonomy work. In the event, the province of West Irian Jaya (now renamed West Papua) was created, but the rest of the province remained under a single administration.

The devolution of power from the centre had the unexpected effect of starting a wave of internal territorial fragmentation (pemekaran). When the central government announced the division of Papua into three provinces in 2003, the move was widely seen as an attempt to divide the Papuan resistance and to hamper secession. Elsewhere in Indonesia, however, the initiative for pemekaran came very much from below. Several provinces broke apart, while at the district level dozens of new administrative units appeared. The fragmentation was driven principally by local rivalries: with greater power and resources under the control of local government, the interests at stake in local politics became greater. The process moved so fast that new districts often came into being without clear borders: a survey in late 2007 recorded 81 border disputes between districts. Pemekaran provided a mechanism for small local elites to win control of resources that they might otherwise have had to share within a larger unit. In this respect, pemekaran was a distant echo of the process three to four millennia earlier by which the vast migration of the Austronesians into Southeast Asia and across the Pacific and Indian Oceans was driven by the secession of aspiring elites unable to win power within their own communities.

Indonesian provinces and their capitals in 1999

Provinces 2007

Aceh administrative divisions, 1999

Aceh administrative divisions, 2007

Bangka Belitung administrative divisions, 2007

Bali administrative divisions, 2007

Banten administrative divisions, 2007

Bengkulu administrative divisions, 1999

Bengkulu administrative divisions, 2007

Yogyakarta administrative divisions, 2007

Jakarta administrative divisions, 2007

Gorontalo administrative divisions, 2007

Irian Java administrative divisions, 1998

Irian Jaya Barat administrative divisions, 2006

Jawa Barat administrative divisions, 2007

Jambi administrative divisions, 1998

Jambi administrative divisions, 2007

Jawa Tengah administrative divisions, 2007

Jawa Timur administrative divisions, 2007

Kalimantan Barat administrative divisions, 1999

Kalimantan Barat administrative divisions, 2007

Kalimantan Selatan administrative divisions, 1999

Kalimantan Selatan administrative divisions, 2007

Kalimantan Tengah administrative divisions, 1999

Kalimantan Tengah administrative divisions, 2007

Kalimantan Timur administrative divisions, 1999

Kalimantan Timur administrative divisions, 2007

Kepulauan Riau administrative divisions, 2007

Lampung administrative divisions, 1999

Lampung administrative divisions, 2007

Maluku administrative divisions, 2001

Maluku administrative divisions, 2007

Maluku Utara administrative divisions, 2002

Maluku Utara administrative divisions, 2007

Nusatenggara Barat administrative divisions, 2007

Nusatenggara Timur administrative divisions, 2007

Papua administrative divisions, 2006

Riau administrative divisions, 1998

Riau administrative divisions, 2007

Sulawesi Barat administrative divisions, 2006

Sulawesi Selatan administrative divisions, 2007

Sulawesi Tengah administrative divisions, 1999

Sulawesi Tengah administrative divisions, 2007

Sulawesi Tenggara administrative divisions, 1999

Sulawesi Tenggara administrative divisions, 2007

Sulawesi Utara administrative divisions, 2001

Sulawesi Utara administrative divisions, 2007

Sumatera Barat administrative divisions, 1998

Sumatera Barat: administrative divisions, 2007

Sumatera Selatan administrative divisions, 1999

Sumatera Selatan administrative divisions, 2007

Sumatera Utara administrative divisions, 1999

Sumatera Utara administrative divisions, 2007

Administrative fragmentation was accompanied by a renewed ethnic and cultural assertiveness. At one level, this assertiveness was reflected in a pattern of favouring locals (putra daerah) for administrative and political positions within each province and district: a reversal of the Suharto era trend towards ethnic mixing. In several parts of Indonesia, this local assertiveness took the form of a revival of the colonial era native states that had lost all official status (except in Yogyakarta) in the 1950s. In some regions, it took the shape of introducing elements of Islamic law by local regulation. Typical elements included the requirement to wear Islamic dress (especially for school children and government employees, often irrespective of the religion of the wearer), regulations against gambling and alcohol, restrictions on the appearance of women in public places (especially at night or in the company of men who were not close relatives), insistence on the ability to read the Qur’an in order to get access to certain official services such as the registration of a marriage, and the collection of the Islamic tithe or zakat. In other regions, local identity was expressed in an intriguing revival of the local royal families whose kingdoms and sultanates had been an integral part of indirect colonial rule but which had been abolished by the Republic in 1960.

Local Islamic law in Indonesia 2000-2006

Revival of traditional monarchies, 1999-2007

Ethnic and Religious Conflict

In some parts of the country, the assertion of local identity took the form of ethnic or religious cleansing. In West and Central Kalimantan, indigenous Dayaks defined migrant Madurese as arrogant, grasping interlopers and launched a violent campaign against them which virtually removed them from the region. In Maluku and in the central Sulawesi district of Poso, violent conflict erupted between Christian and Muslim communities. These conflicts not only cost hundreds of lives by reconfigured local ethnic and religious geographies. Where once houses, communities and villages of one religion were interspersed amongst settlements of the other, the violence led to a sharper segregation, greater distrust and diminished interaction across the religious divide.

Between 1999 and 2002, a civil war took place between Christians and Muslims in the provinces of Maluku and North Maluku. The violence is said to have begun in the city of Ambon with a fight between a Christian Ambonese bus driver and a Muslim Bugis passenger. After several days of riots in the city, the violence also broke out in neighbouring Haruku, Saparusa, Manipa and Seram. After a four-month lull, during which the 1999 parliamentary elections took place, further violence broke out in Aru, Kei, Tanimbar, Buru and North Maluku. In all, the violence is believed to have left 5,000–9,000 people dead and 300,000 to 700,000 homeless. Tens of thousands of houses and hundreds of mosques and churches were burnt. The reasons for the violence were complex and included local elite-led tensions over access to government posts in a province where Christians had gradually lost their dominance. Wild rumours circulating in an environment where there was no reliable source of news played a major role, too. Some of these rumours seem to have been planted deliberately and further rumours circulated that the military fomented or at least tolerated the violence as a way of discrediting Indonesia’s new democracy. Certainly important was the local sense of lawlessness, which led people to arm and organize for their own defence, and to feel that they could kill their enemies with impunity. Once the killings began, further killings were driven by a desire for revenge. Islamist groups from Java, calling themselves the Laskar Jihad (Holy War militia), contributed to an escalation of the violence from May 2000. The violence ended gradually after the central government declared a state of emergency in July 2000 and security forces began to police the segregation of the region into distinct Christian and Muslim zones. The city of Ambon itself was divided into distinct zones. In February 2002, the government brokered the so-called Malino II agreement between the rival communities, providing pacification, disarmament and the return of those who had fled their homes.

Scenes of religious conflict in northern Halmahera

Mosque and church burnings in Ambon, January 1999

Religious division of Ambon, 2000

Religious division of Ambon, 2001

Ambon City divided, 2004

Damaging though this civil violence was, it received far less international attention than a series of Islamist terrorist attacks focussed at least partly on Western interests in Indonesia. A series of apparently co-ordinated bomb blasts at Jakarta churches on Christmas Eve 2000 claimed 16 lives. Many of the bombings showed a degree of technical sophistication that aroused suspicions that sections of the military might have been involved. On 12 October 2002, a devastating car bomb exploded outside a night-club on the island of Bali, killing 202 people, including 88 Australian tourists and 38 Indonesians. Suspicion immediately fell on the regional Islamist terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiah, reputed to be the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qa’ida, although it was unclear whether Jemaah Islamiah was a genuine organization or simply a loose network of radicals. The bombing appeared to have been motivated by a general level of hostility towards ‘Western’ decadence as it manifested itself in the tourist resorts of Bali, as well as by specific resentment of US policies and of Australia for its military role in East Timor and Afghanistan and its support of the USA. The police were remarkably swift in detaining the first suspects, whose trials began in mid-May 2003. The first defendant, Amrozi, was found guilty and sentenced to death in August. Two other defendants, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas, were sentenced to death in September and October, while a fourth, Ali Imron, was sentenced to life imprisonment after expressing remorse over his actions.

Bomb explosions in Kuta, Bali, October 2002

During 2003 several bombs exploded in Jakarta – at the national police headquarters in February, at Jakarta airport in April, and at the parliament building in July. A bomb outside the Marriott Hotel in early August killed 12 people. In September 2004, a bomb exploded outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, killing nine, and in October 2005, two more bombs exploded in Bali, killing twenty. Although the bombings were generally assumed to be the work of Islamist militants (the Marriott bomb exploded shortly before the sentencing of Amrozi for his involvement in the Bali bombing), suspicion lingered that sections of Indonesian military intelligence with close links to Islamist radicals might have been involved.

Natural Disasters

Aside from the consequences of political and a social conflict, Indonesia has faced a series of human and natural disasters in recent years. The tsunami which struck Aceh in December 2004, killing an estimated 236,000 Indonesians, nearly all of them in Aceh, was one of the greatest natural disasters in history, but other natural disasters have claimed thousands of lives. Poor safety regulation has also led to hundreds of deaths in air crashes and ferry disasters. Between 2000 and 2006, thanks to the entry of budget airlines, the number of passengers flying in Indonesia each year rose from 7.6 million to 34 million passengers, without any comparable increase in safety inspection staff. Indonesia has reported a fatal air accident rate of 3.77 per million passenger flights, in comparison with the global average of 0.25. In 2007, all Indonesian airlines, including the national carrier Garuda, were banned from European Union airspace on safety grounds. In 2007, Indonesia had recorded 5,813 cases of HIV/AIDS infections, but experts estimated that the real number of infected Indonesians was between 90,000 and 250,000. After the H5N1 bird flu variant emerged as a major global health risk in 2004, Indonesia soon the global centre of human bird flu infections, though in 2009 the continuing risk from this variant was overshadowed by the spread of H1N1 swine flu.

Ferry disasters in Indonesia, 1981-2009


In 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) finally ruled on a long-standing dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia over two small islands, Sipadan and Ligitan, lying in the Makassar Strait off the coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah. Indonesia’s claim arose by extending eastwards the colonial era border which divided the island of Sebatik off the Kalimantan coast. With treaties and maps from the colonial era ambiguous, the International Court of Justice ruled that Malaysia had more effectively administered the islands than had Indonesia: the pre-war North Borneo Company government had regulated the collection of turtle eggs on the islands and the British had built lighthouses on the islands in 1962 and 1963 without protest from Indonesia. In the aftermath of the loss of East Timor, the ICJ ruling aroused great resentment amongst the Indonesian public.

Sipadan, Ligitan and the disputed Ambalat blocks

In 2005, further tension arose with Malaysia over rights over two oil and gas exploration blocks known as Ambalat and East Ambalat, both located south of Sipadan and Ligitan. (Despite many reports suggesting otherwise, Ambalat is not an island or an island group.) In February 2005 Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, awarded production-sharing contracts to Royal Dutch/Shell and its own exploration and production arm for two blocks covering very deep water off the east coast of Sabah. Malaysia claimed the territorial waters on the basis of the ICJ decision, but Indonesia had allocated two overlapping blocks to Italian and US exploration firms in 2004. Still smarting from the ICJ decision, Indonesia interpreted Malaysia’s claim as opportunistic and hostile. The Indonesian authorities sent seven warships and four F-16 fighter jets to the disputed area and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited troops in the area. The issue was all the more sensitive because the Indonesian government had recently reduced its subsidy of domestic fuel prices and the dispute was represented as Malaysia’s attempt to steal Indonesian oil. Indonesian authorities had estimated that the Ambalat blocks contained between 100 million and one billion barrels of oil. There were demonstrations in Indonesian cities and cyber-attacks on Malaysian websites, particularly on those of government agencies and departments. In response Indonesia began a programme of strengthening its administrative presence on outlying islands, rocks and reefs, especially by building lighthouses. A lighthouse, for instance, built in 2005 on Karang Unarang, which is normally covered by water but which is close to the disputed Ambalat waters, is intended to strengthen Indonesia’s claim over territorial waters.

Indonesia also sought to consolidate its borders with newly independent Timor Leste. In 2000 Indonesia agreed with Timor Leste to establish a Joint Border Committee which would work to demarcate the border using the 1914 Portuguese–Dutch Treaty as a starting point. The committee concluded its work with a treat in April 2005 settling most of the border except for three border disputes affecting the Timor Leste enclave of Ambeno (Oecusse). Indonesia claims the uninhabited island of Batek (also known as Fatu Sinai and Gala Bata), lying off the Timor coast at about the point where the border between Indonesia and the Timor Leste enclave of Ambeno (Oecussi) reaches the sea. In 1904, the Dutch and Portuguese had agreed to divide the tiny islet between themselves, but in practice it was ignored until after Timor Leste gained its independence in 1999 and did not specify the island as part of its national territory in its 2002 Constitution. Indonesia built a lighthouse there in 2002 and used the island for shelling practice in 2003. The other Indonesian claims were to Naktuka, on the coast opposite Batek, and Nuaf Bijae Sunan near Passabe.

Indonesian territorial disputes with Timor Leste

Indonesia, however, has participated willingly in the blurring of territorial boundaries in another part of the archipelago. From the 1950s, successive Indonesian governments aimed to diminish the role of Singapore as a major regional entrepot for shipping between Indonesia and the rest of the world. Especially during Confrontation (1963–1966), Indonesia tried to exclude Singapore from its economic relations with the outside world and to sever the long-standing ties between Singapore and the Riau archipelago. From the late 1980s, however, Indonesia began to encourage Riau’s integration with its neighbour. In 1990, under the auspices of the then Technology Minister, B.J. Habibie, Indonesia agreed with Singapore on the establishment of a $400-million Industrial Park project on the island of Batam, which would provide Singapore with room to expand its industrial development, making use of cheaper Indonesian labour. The two countries also agreed that Singapore would lease and manage a large tract of land in northern Bintan as a tourist resort complex. The development, opened in 1996, as the Bintan Beach International Resort, created an enclave where Singapore currency circulated and Singaporean tourists could feel safe and at home.

Bintan and Batam, showing Bintan Beach International Resort