Is Indonesia Bound for the BRICs?

How Stalling Reform Could Hold Jakarta Back

Courtesy Reuters

Indonesia is in the midst of a yearlong debut on the world stage. This past spring and summer, it hosted a series of high-profile summits, including for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation in May, the World Economic Forum on East Asia the same month, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July. With each event, Indonesia received broad praise for its leadership and achievements. This coming-out party will culminate in November, when the country hosts the East Asia Summit, which U.S. President Barack Obama and world leaders from 17 other countries will attend. As attention turns to Indonesia, the time is ripe to assess whether Jakarta can live up to all the hype.

A little over ten years ago, during the height of the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia looked like a state on the brink of collapse. The rupiah was in a death spiral, protests against President Suharto's regime had turned into riots, and violence had erupted against Indonesia's ethnic Chinese community. The chaos left the country -- the fourth largest in the world, a sprawling archipelago including more than 17,000 islands, 200 million people, and the world's largest Muslim population -- without a clear leader.

Today, Indonesia is hailed as a model democracy and is a darling of the international financial community. The Jakarta Stock Exchange has been among the world's top performers in recent years, and some analysts have even called for adding Indonesia to the ranks of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). More recent efforts to identify the economic superstars of the future -- Goldman Sachs' "Next 11," PricewaterhouseCoopers' "E-7" (emerging 7), The Economist's "CIVETS" (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa), and Citigroup's "3G" -- all include Indonesia.

To be sure, Indonesia's track record has been impressive. In just a few short years following Suharto's 1998 fall from power, Indonesia transformed from a tightly controlled authoritarian system to one of the most vibrant democracies on earth. The elections in 1999 were widely praised as a triumph

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