In This Review

A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia in the 1990s
A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia in the 1990s
By Adam Schwarz
Westview Press, 1994, 371 pp.

The author of this admirable volume is a correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review who lived and worked in Indonesia from 1988 to 1992. As thoughtful an account of the Suharto era in Indonesian politics as one could hope for.

On the one hand, as the author points out, Suharto's authoritarian rule combined with pragmatic economic policies over the past 30 years have dramatically reduced poverty in Indonesia while substantially increasing education, literacy, and health. The nation's industrial sector has grown rapidly, and so too has the private sector. Manufacturing exports now make up a fifth of gross domestic product. Meanwhile, social changes have also been profound. A middle class of professionals and white collar employees is forming.

But more and more educated Indonesians see Suharto's brand of leadership as excessively paternalistic and a hindrance to national development. The general unresponsiveness of the political process, the weakness of the legislative and judicial branches of government, the prevalence of officially sustained corruption, and the unpredictability of succession are now seen as a brake on Indonesia's development. What Suharto's critics want, however, is not Western democracy but a more responsive system with checks and balances. The author concludes that Suharto must start preparing for a smooth transition, or Indonesia could be plunged into turmoil.