Ten years ago the Asian financial crisis devastated the Indonesian economy and unleashed far-reaching political change. In the wake of Soeharto's fall there was great optimism about what democratic governance would bring for Indonesia. As with many other much anticipated and hard-fought political struggles, there was more than a little romanticism about it all, and the results achieved thus far have fallen short of the more optimistic expectations. Indeed, around the world the process of democratisation has been long and messy, and frequently marked by disappointments, setbacks and outright reversals.
In this volume we seek to take stock of both Indonesia's progress in establishing and refining a democratic framework of governance, and the extent to which this is yielding satisfactory outcomes. There will, of course, be a range of opinions on these issues within Indonesia and internationally, but two distinctive contributions that analysts can make are to help establish realistic expectations or bases for comparison, and to highlight areas where governance arrangements are not working well or where there may be scope for further refinement.
Undoubtedly, a large part of mankind's material progress may be attributed to the invention of government: a set of mechanisms for collective decision making and action for the common good. At the same time, however, the coercive power of government has very often been used for the benefit of those who exercise that power, rather than the general public they supposedly represent. Developing countries around the world have often seen coups d'état, the purpose of which is either to gain access to the potential spoils of office, or to deprive an existing government of those spoils. The stakes are so high that this is often literally a matter of life and death. In the aftermath of the attempted coup in 1965 in Indonesia, for example, hundreds of thousands of communists and their alleged supporters were murdered in order to ensure that this group would never again be a serious contender for power–and also, arguably, as a warning to others of the fate that threatened if they had any ideas about wresting power from the incoming regime.