Political Reform in Indonesia After Soeharto

In This Review

Political Reform in Indonesia after Soeharto
By Harold Crouch
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010
404 pp. $59.90

Peaceful transitions to democracy are as rare as they are desirable. As one of the most striking success stories, Indonesia offers important lessons. Crouch, a longtime Indonesia observer, shows how unlikely reform seemed when the authoritarian president Suharto resigned during an economic crisis in 1998, given the entrenched interests built into his ironically named New Order and the turbulence of Indonesia's hyper-fragmented society. Crouch focuses on six domains: the electoral system, central-local relations, the military, the judiciary, communal conflict (with a case study of the Maluku Islands), and separatism (with a case study of the territory of Aceh). And he examines two puzzles: why reform was launched in the midst of an economic crisis, and how reform deepened. In Indonesia, the underlying socioeconomic conditions, emphasized by some democratization theorists, were permissive but not favorable. Crouch's clear and close-up account reveals the importance of the crisis itself, an event that forced elites to improvise on the fly or face widespread disorder, and of negotiations among major interest groups emerging from the old regime. The implications are a bit scary: there is no road map for democratization. And luck and leadership play large roles.

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