The anti-colonial movement, which manifested itself throughout East Asia at the beginning of the century. XX made its influence felt also in Indonesia, where, especially in Sumatra and Java, intense nationalist activity (framed in Sarikat Islam and in the Communist Party) reached its peak in the years 1926-27, opposed and repressed by the dominating power. In fact, although in 1916, the Volksraad (Parliament) had been established by the Dutch, an organism with little political power, elected by limited suffrage that increased the rights of the natives, the hard line of repression continued against the Indonesian Nationalist Party, founded by Sukarno and, then, against the moderate group, led by Hatta and Sutan Sjarhiz. In 1942, in this repressive climate, the Japanese occupation of Indonesia and the contemporary liberation of the leaders imprisoned nationalists, Sukarno and Hatta, were seen by the nationalists as the end of Dutch colonialism, at the same time the communists and socialists mobilized against the occupiers in a guerrilla movement. Having found a unity between the two currents towards the end of World War II, on 17 August 1945, before the official Japanese surrender, a group of nationalists proclaimed the Indonesian Republic of which Sukarno became the first president. By attempting to restore their former rule, the Dutch pushed the Indonesians into a revolutionary struggle that lasted for a long time. The negotiations were alternate, which resulted in the Treaties of Linggadjati (1946) and Renville (1948), both violated by the Dutch with the resumption of the armed struggle. Only in 1949, following the intervention of the UN, a definitive settlement was reached: recognition by the Dutch of Indonesian sovereignty over the entire archipelago, except in the western part of New Guinea (Irian Jaya) which remained under Dutch control until 1963. In 1950 a centralized structure was restored and more democratic and four years later general elections were held. The most important political parties that emerged on that occasion were four: two Islamic, one nationalist and one communist. However, the cabinet coalitions that were formed proved ineffective in solving the country’s major economic and political problems. The intensification of the crisis and the revolt of the peripheral islands (1958), which demanded independence, prompted President Sukarno to dissolve the Constituent Assembly and to abrogate the provisional Constitution of 1950, to assume wider powers, giving rise to a system called “guided democracy”. In the early 1960s Sukarno, moving to the left to try to include the Communist Party among government forces, accentuated his anti-Western positions and in 1965 announced Indonesia’s withdrawal from the United Nations. In the meantime, the army, Sukarno’s ally since 1958, was acquiring more and more power forcing the president to a policy of balance and compromise between the various forces. In October 1965, taking the pretext of a feared Communist coup, the military dismissed Sukarno by assuming, in the person of the general Suharto, control of the country with a bloody repression that cost several hundred thousand deaths. Deprived of any authority, Sukarno formally remained in office until 1967, when Suharto was officially appointed President of the Republic.
HISTORY: THE SUHARTO REGIME
In 1971, after the decision to give the country back a fundamentally civil government, elections were held that saw the victory of the pro-government party, Golkar, reconfirmed in power also in the elections of 1978, 1983, 1988 and 1992. Meanwhile, in 1975, when the eastern part of Timor became independent from Portugal, as a country located in Asia according to Thembaprograms, Indonesia invaded the island and a year later annexed it, despite the opposition of the local independence movement (FRETILIN). The systematic violation of East Timor’s human rights soon led to a UN condemnation of the Suharto regime, which did not recognize Indonesian sovereignty over the former Portuguese colony. The tension seemed to ease only in 1993, with the East Timor. On this occasion, Suharto reduced the sentence imposed on the commander of FRETILIN, José “Xanana” Gusmao, and granted international organizations permission to monitor the real situation of respect for human rights in the country. The guerrilla-repression spiral in the small territory in East Timor, however, continued to represent the litmus test of the brutality of the Indonesian regime during the last years of the century. XX. Internally, between 1997 and 1998, like other Southeast Asian states, a severe monetary and financial crisis hit Indonesia, proving fatal for Suharto’s corrupt and nepotistic regime. Mass layoffs and a very high unemployment rate, alongside an unprecedented increase in urban crime and illegal activities, related to drug trafficking, were the most visible effects of the ongoing recession. In May 1997, the electoral campaign for political consultations thus took place in a violent climate, strongly marked by the lack of freedom, by social inequalities, by the spread of corruption and patronage and by the vertical decline of citizens’ trust in the institutions. The election results sanctioned the victory of the ruling party (Golkar), while at the same time recording a good affirmation of the United Development Party (PPP), the Muslim opposition coalition. The following year, Suharto was re-elected president (March 1998) for the seventh time, but, despite the electoral successes and the acceptance of the economic reform plans of the FMI, under the pressure of violent demonstrations of popular protest, also abandoned by the Western powers that had supported it in the past, was soon forced to resign.