Indonesia is a country located in the region of Southeastern Asia. Joko Widodo, former furniture maker and governor of Jakarta, was elected Indonesian President in July 2014. Thus, the country got its first head of state without a background in the traditional political and / or military elite. Widodo, re-elected for a new five-year term in April 2019, has been recognized for its ambitious infrastructure investments. At the same time, he has been criticized for the country’s relatively weak economic development and – by some conservative forces – for being “Islamic”.
Widodo comes from the small business community and was elected mayor in 2005 in his hometown of Solo in Central Java. He then made himself known as an actionable and down to earth person with a reputation for being immutable. On his political agenda, poverty reduction, the fight against the severe corruption and the expansion of the country’s infrastructure are at the top.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Indonesia, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
In the final step on the road to the country’s highest office, the presidential post, Widodo received the necessary support from the secular, nationalist party PDI-P and its influential leader, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, the country’s first independent Indonesia.
But the popularly-liked Widodo has also provided tug-of-war to PDI-P. In the election to the Legislative House of Representatives (DPR) in April 2014, PDI-P was strongly ahead and became the largest party since Widodo decided to run for the party in the upcoming presidential election. Golkar was second biggest, while former General Prabowo Subianto’s party Gerindra had strong winds and came third. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party (DP) backed sharply and ended up in fourth place. The four Muslim parties together received around 30 percent of the vote.
Widodo vs Prabowo Subianto
In the presidential election in July of that year, it soon became clear that exgeneral Prabowo Subianto would become Widodo’s main competitor. In direct contrast to Widodo, he is part of the elite and has a large network within this group. Prabowo Subianto is a wealthy ranch owner living outside Jakarta. He breeds breed horses, dogs and also has falcons.
The electoral movement became fierce but largely peaceful. Wallet issues were at the center. Although the country’s economic growth was weaker than expected, there were expectations among many Indonesians of higher wages and better social welfare.
Even the election day was calm, but both candidates declared themselves victorious before the election results were published. It showed that Widodo had won 53 percent of the vote against 47 percent for Subianto. Subianto claimed that there was a gross election fraud and appealed the election result. The Constitutional Court unanimously rejected this and affirmed Widodo’s election victory.
Widodo’s first government
Government formation was delayed, but in October Widodo took office. Indonesia got its first female foreign minister, former Ambassador Retno Lestari Marsudi. The Ministry of Finance got two financial experts as top executives. Nearly half of the government members were politicians closely allied with Widodo and Megawati. The appointment of Ryamizard Ryacudu as Minister of Defense was criticized. He is a former army chief with a disputed reputation in human rights and a close ally of Megawati. Megawati’s daughter, Puan Maharani, also received a ministerial post. Eight of the 34 ministers were women.
The Widodo government’s main goal was to boost economic growth so that it returned to 7 percent annually. This would be through investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and human capital (education, poverty reduction). Priority tasks were also to address the state’s large budget deficits and the soaring costs of fuel subsidies.
Already in August 2015, Widodo replaced six of its ministers. This was a result of the economic recovery having to wait and criticism for the fact that the government work was disorganized and filled with internal contradictions.
However, the government was strengthened in May 2016 when Golkar’s 90 members in the lower house changed sides from the opposition to the government. Thus, the government achieved a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Former Speaker of Corruption
In 2017, a major corruption revolution was launched at a high political level. A large number of politicians, including dozens of parliamentarians from mainly Golkar and PDI-P, were prosecuted for bribery in connection with the development of a new system of electronic ID cards. Among the defendants were Parliament’s former President Setya Novanto, formerly also chairman of Golkar.
At a house search in Novanto’s Jakarta residence in November 2017, he fled the field and later showed up at a hospital where he claimed to have suffered a traffic accident. When the doctors found no fault with him, he had to leave the hospital and instead set himself up for questioning. He was sentenced in April 2018 to 15 years in prison for corruption.
The major corruption in the electronic ID cards was estimated to cost the state around $ 170 million in lost funds. It also smashed down Widodo’s campaign against corruption.
Presidential and parliamentary elections 2019
On April 17, 2019, Indonesia held for the first time the presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day. At the same time elections were held for governor and mayor positions as well as for provincial governments and local parishes. A total of 193 million eligible voters could choose from a total of 245,000 candidates. It took at least a month to compile the public results.
In the presidential election, Widodo and Prabowo Subianto met again. In the opinion polls, Widodo had a clear lead. Prabowo Subianto accused the electoral authority of massive and systematic electoral fraud in favor of Widodo. The electoral authority admitted that the extensive electoral process had some shortcomings, mainly in the distribution of election materials, but it rejected the allegations of cheating.
Widodo, often criticized for being “Islamic”, chose the conservative Muslim scribe Ma’ruf Amin as his vice presidential candidate. The choice of pair horse was considered to strengthen Widodo among conservative voters, but risked scaring away more progressive Indonesians.
Amin leads Indonesia’s ulama council, which has the power to issue fatwor (religious injunctions) and has some influence over political decisions concerning Islam. Amin was one of the key people behind a 2017 blasphemy against Jakarta’s former governor, Christian Basuki Purnama. Amin has made several negative statements about minority groups, including LGBT people.
The religious (Muslim) conservative elements of Indonesian politics have generally grown in the 2000s and 2010s (see also Religion). Among other things, it is noticed by a large number of attacks against religious minorities such as Shi’a Muslims, Christians and persons belonging to the Ahmadiya, as well as against LGBTQ persons. It also happens that Muslim conservatives are trying to incorporate sharia into provincial or local level legislation.
Widodo is re-elected
Central election issues were again the country’s economy, with worries about growing foreign debt and increased foreign influence over natural resources, as well as widening class divisions and increasing ethnic and religious intolerance in the country.
PDI-P, which helped Widodo to the 2014 presidential election, this time chose to support Prabowo Subianto. The reason was considered that party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri was dissatisfied that Widodo, after the 2014 election victory, did not listen enough to her.
On May 21, the electoral authority announced that Widodo had won with 55.5 percent of the vote compared to 44.5 percent for Prabowo Subianto. This allowed Widodo to remain for another five-year period. Widodo had the most votes in the provinces of Bali and East Java, while Prabowo Subianto had its strongest holdings in the conservative provinces of Aceh and West Java. Prabowo Subianto in vain appealed against the election result which he believed was based on election fraud.
The parliamentary elections only led to small changes. PDI-P remained the largest party, followed by Golkar and Gerindra. The Muslim parties received a roughly equal share of votes as they usually do.
New capital proposal
After the electoral victory, the Widodo government proposed to Parliament that the capital of Indonesia be moved from Jakarta to eastern Kalimantan. The reason is that Jakarta has serious problems with congestion, pollution, traffic chaos and that the ground level is falling rapidly as the city is built on wetland. The new capital will be built near the current cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda. According to Widodo, the area is strategically located as well as protected from natural disasters.
If Parliament approves the move, it means that the country’s power center will disappear from Java, where over half the population lives and where economic and political power has traditionally been gathered. However, Jakarta will remain the country’s economic and trade center. Construction of the new city is scheduled to begin in 2020. The total cost is estimated at $ 33 billion.
Protests against legislative proposals
President Widodo got off to a good start in his second term. The government again had to deal with harsh criticism when extensive forest fires once again caused health and environmentally hazardous smoke development in the region. At the same time, ongoing violent protests in Papua were worsened, with dozens of deaths as a result (see Papua).
In September 2019, major protests around the country also erupted against a series of controversial legislative proposals in connection with the reform of old colonial laws. Among other things, sex outside marriage was suggested to be punishable by imprisonment, as well as to insult the president or to live together without being married (see Calendar, September 20, 2019). The protests also targeted proposed legislative changes that are feared to limit KPK’s anti-corruption authority.
In October 2019, Widodo’s influential security minister Wiranto was subjected to a murder trial when two members of the banned IS-faith network Jad knifed him in the stomach. Wiranto survived the attack but had to be operated on urgently.
President Widodo surprised many when in October 2019 he presented his new government with 38 ministers; his political arch rival Prabowo Subianto was named Minister of Defense. Sri Mulyani Indrawati, former CEO of the World Bank, remained as finance minister. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also retained his post. Among the ministers were also entrepreneurs and media moguls. Wiranto was not included in the new government.
Corona pandemic strikes
In March 2020, Indonesia was hit by the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus sars-cov-2. President Widodo and his government received sharp criticism for a slow response in the initial phase of the pandemic. At the end of March, emergency permits were introduced in the country, but Jakarta and other major cities were not isolated by curfew or suspended public transport. People were urged to keep away from each other, which was difficult for, for example, the residents of the slum. Later, however, Jakarta was quarantined.
Read more about the events here.
Read about militant Islamism here.
Read about the situation in Aceh here.
Read about the conflict in Papua here.
READ TIP – read more about Indonesia in UI’s web magazine Foreign
magazine : Corona crisis threatens to demolish Indonesian welfare building (2020-04-28)
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of Indonesia / Republic of Indonesia
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Joko Widodo (2014–)
Head of government
President Joko Widodo (2014–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Democratic Party Camp (PDI-P) 128, Golkar 85, Gerindra 78, Nasdem Party 59, National Revival Party (PKB) 58, Democratic Party (PD) 54, Welfare and Justice Party (PKS) 50, National Mandate Party (PAN) 44, United Development Party (PPP) 19 (2019)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Democratic Party Camp (PDI-P) 109, Golkar 91, Gerindra 73, Democratic Party (DP) 61, National Revival Party (PKB) 47, National Mandate Party 49, Welfare and Justice Party (PKS) 40, Nasdem Party 35, United Development Party (PPP) 39, Hanura 16 (2014)
75% in the parliamentary elections in April 2014, 69% in the presidential elections in July 2014, 82% in the presidential and parliamentary elections in May 2019
presidential and parliamentary elections 2024
Saturday evening, October 12, 2002 constitutes a water divider in Indonesian politics. At that time, three concerted blast attacks were carried out in the Kuta Beach tourist area in Bali. 202 people were killed and over 300 injured. The majority of the victims were foreign tourists, including 88 Australians and six Swedes. Behind the act was the regional Muslim extremist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which fought for an Islamic state in the Muslim part of Southeast Asia. Nowadays, JI is divided into a number of smaller groups.
Formerly regarded as a weak link in the global alliance against terrorism that was formed following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Indonesia, following the Bali deed, became a loyal ally of the United States in the international terrorist fight. Strict laws have been introduced that allow terrorist suspects to be imprisoned without trial and that terrorism can result in the death penalty. Today, the police have greater powers in investigations, arrests and detention. Since 2005, the military has also been actively involved in the fight against terrorism.
With the help of better intelligence and close cooperation with military and security services in other countries, hundreds of JI members have been arrested, including the top leaders, and the network’s ability to carry out attacks has diminished. In 2003, three JI members were sentenced to death for planning Bali deeds and two others were sentenced to life imprisonment. The convicts were executed five years later.
However, militant Islamism continues to pose a terror threat, even though JI is now divided into several smaller groups. The split was due to ideological differences such as the attitude towards Muslim victims in the act of terrorism or how much violence may be justified.
JI’s core area was central and eastern Java, where its activities were organized around a number of Muslim boarding schools (pesantren). The strongest stronghold was the city of Solo, where religious leader Abu Bakar Baasyir is based. He was long designated as JI’s spiritual leader and was sentenced in 2005 to 2.5 years in prison for planning the Bali deed. He was released early in 2006 and was acquitted on all counts in December of the same year after appealing the Supreme Court ruling.
Baasyir formed in 2008 the radical Islamist group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAD), an outbreak group from JI. He was arrested again in August 2010, suspected of a series of terrorist offenses linked to the police’s discovery of Islamic training camps in Aceh in February of that year. In June 2011, Baasyir was sentenced to 15 years in prison for encouraging other people to commit or finance terrorist acts.
Militant Islamism is also found in other parts of Indonesia, from Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra to the island of Flores as well as on Sulawesi.
Militant Islamist groups have been in Indonesia since the nation’s inception in 1949. Their targets have usually been Christians. Until 2002, the Indonesian government’s actions against these groups were perceived as mild by the outside world. The country’s struggle against extreme Islamist groups had hitherto posed a difficult political dilemma for the governing, which was forced to strike a balance between secular and Muslim interests. In addition, huge popular protests against the US-led wars in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 showed that strong negative feelings towards the West also existed among moderate Muslims, despite the fact that they strongly distanced themselves from the extreme methods of violence.
Even after the Bali deed in 2002, Indonesia has been shaken by several terrorist attacks. In August 2003, 14 people were killed when an explosive charge detonated in a car outside the American luxury hotel Marriott in Jakarta. In September 2004, at least nine people were killed in a car bomb attack outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. In October 2005, Bali was hit by new terrorist attacks when 23 people, many of them Indonesians, were killed when three suicide bombers triggered explosive charges in the tourist routes.
After four years without major attacks, in July 2009, nine people were killed in two concerted explosions against two hotels in Jakarta. Since then, terror has been directed more towards Indonesian targets rather than Western ones, particularly the country’s police force and the Christian minority. One example is a suicide attack in April 2011 against a mosque inside a police station in Cirebon in western Java, when nearly 30 people, including many police officers, were injured. All the attacks bore similarities to Balidåd in 2002 and the suspicions were directed at radicalized outbreak groups from JI.
In the summer of 2014, fears were raised that radical Islamist leaders and groups in Indonesia had been inspired by the extremist Islamist group IS’s advance in northern Iraq (see Iraq, calendar). In July, Abu Bakar Baasyir expressed his support for IS in prison cell. One month later, Indonesia banned IS’s ideology because it runs counter to the pancasila state ideology (see Political system). The government stated that websites with IS-inspired content would be blocked and that Indonesian citizens who planned trips to conflict areas in the Middle East and South Asia should be monitored.
Terrorism with ties to IS
In January 2016, Jakarta suffered the first terror attack since 2009. Eight people, four of whom were perpetrators, were killed in connection with six explosions detonated in a shopping area in central Jakarta. According to Indonesian police, a local terrorist group with ties to the extremist group IS behind the act. Later that day, IS assumed responsibility for the attack (read more in the Calendar).
During the period following the terrorist attack, about 20 people were arrested by police around the country, including a person whom the police described as a financier. The money should have come from IS. Jakarta’s police chief told media that Bahrum Naim, an Indonesian man believed to be in Syria and a war for IS, had likely coordinated the attack.
Naim was considered to belong to the local terror cell MIT (roughly the East Indian mujahedin group), based in Sulawesi. MIT was part of a network of regional terror cells, and Naim was considered to have the aim of linking the local and regional groups under the IS’s umbrella. Naim was also believed to lead an IS affiliate in Syria consisting mainly of warriors from Indonesia and Malaysia.
The intelligence work following the terrorist attacks in Jakarta in January 2016 revealed a complicated weave of small militant cells within the country, which worked for leaders who were in Syria. These leaders competed with each other to try to carry out terrorist acts in their home country in order to gain money or reputation within IS. Three leaders mentioned in police reports were Bahrumsiah, Abu Jandal and Bahrun Naim.
In May 2018, the worst terrorist act in Indonesia was carried out in a decade. In a number of coordinated suicide attacks in the Surabaya area of Java, 25 people were killed (13 of whom were suicide bombers) and dozens were injured. All perpetrators belonged to the same family and both women and children were involved in the killing. It was, for example, the first time that the police could document that a woman committed a suicide attack in Indonesia. It was also the first time that the police could establish that an entire nuclear family was performing an act together as a unit.
All perpetrators in Surabaya were members of the terrorist network Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which was formed in 2015. JAD consists of at least 25 groups who have all sworn allegiance to IS. JAD, which was probably behind the attack in Jakarta in January 2016, is led by Aman Abdurrahman, who is believed to be the spiritual leader of all Indonesian IS faithful groups.
Otherwise, it is nothing new that extremist violence in the country is carried out in certain families. For example, three brothers were central figures in Balidåd in 2002, and at the hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2009, at least four perpetrators came from the same family. In the 1950s, the Muslim mystic Kartosuwiryo led an Islamist uprising; Thirty years later, his grandson Tahmid Rahmat Basuki became the leader of Darul Islam (DI), who fought for an Islamic state in the Indonesian island world.
An armed struggle for independence was ongoing in the province of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra between 1976 and 2005, when a peace agreement could be concluded. The war was waged between the separatist guerrilla Movement for a Free Aceh (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and the Indonesian government and military. It was usually described as low-intensity with periods of military offensive.
However, the war on both sides was brutal and the civilian population was hit hard. At least 15,000 people were killed as a result of the conflict and more than 300,000 of Aceh’s 4.3 million residents were forced to flee their homes from the fighting. The reports of serious abuses against civilians and human rights violations became numerous over the years. Several of the civilians were killed in connection with the government’s military mission, but also GAM was behind several serious crimes, according to human rights organizations.
Throughout history, the Acehs have waged war against all who claimed the territory: Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century, the Dutch colonial power in the 19th century and the Indonesian Republic as early as the 1950s. Aceh’s struggle against the Dutch during the Indonesian liberation war of 1945–1949 gave the area a special status of self-government when Indonesia was formed in 1949. Although Jakarta did not live up to this, Aceh was never fully integrated into the republic.
Focus on natural resources
GAM’s quest for independence had two main causes: Aceh’s long tradition of self-government and an upheaval in Aceh over how the province’s natural resources in the form of oil, natural gas and timber were distributed. As a third cause of the conflict, it is usually mentioned that the acehborn’s culture and religion are different from the one found among Java’s residents. In Aceh, the population is generally more Orthodox believing Muslims than the Javanese. Initially, GAM was a secular movement without religious endeavor, but when the demands for some application of Sharia (Muslim laws) were heard more and more frequently among the population, this was heard by GAM.
However, the immediate reason why GAM was formed in 1976 was that the profits from the exploitation of the province’s rich oil, natural gas and timber resources went almost in full to the government in Jakarta. It is unclear if GAM’s armed struggle had any wider support among the Acehs, but it is clear that GAM’s deep dissatisfaction with the national government was shared by the province’s residents.
Around the turn of the millennium, dissatisfaction among the Acehs also grew with GAM. Many war-weary civilians doubted that the fight would ever produce results. In 2000, peace negotiations began between Indonesia and the GAM, whose leadership was in exile in Stockholm and since 1976 had controlled the movement from there. After nearly three years of negotiations, a peace agreement could be concluded in December 2002. The agreement meant that Aceh received a larger portion of the revenue from the province’s natural wealth. In addition, the province was given the right to apply sharia in civil cases. Non-Muslim residents, however, would continue to be judged by non-religious courts. Under the agreement, the province would also gain some autonomy, disarm the GAM and withdraw Indonesian soldiers. But the central dispute over GAM’s demand for full independence for Aceh was not affected.
Flood disaster 2004
Already in May 2003, the peace process collapsed because the disarmament of GAM and the military’s retreat was delayed. Instead, the military launched an offensive aimed at annihilating GAM. Thousands of Acehs took refuge in schools and mosques, and all international observers left the province. 150 schools were burned down and thousands of children had their schooling canceled. Both parties in the conflict accused each other of the death.
The giant tsunami that hit Aceh on December 26, 2004 in connection with a powerful earthquake off the coast of northern Sumatra had disastrous consequences for the population. At least 170,000 residents were killed in the giant waves and about half a million people became homeless. The material destruction was enormous: most of the provincial capital Banda Aceh was destroyed and the coastal city of Meulaboh was largely submerged.
In the aftermath of the disaster, President Yudhoyono appealed to GAM to lay down the weapons. Now, according to the president, there was a historic opportunity for the parties to achieve peace. Peace initiatives also came from the GAM leaders in Stockholm. New peace talks began in early 2005. A series of rounds of talks were held in Helsinki under the leadership of Finland’s former President Martti Ahtisaari. In February, the most important breakthrough came when GAM abandoned the demand for full independence. On August 15, the parties were able to sign a comprehensive peace agreement in Helsinki.
Peace Agreement 2005
In exchange for GAM releasing the requirement for independence, the agreement would allow the movement to be transformed into a political party with the right to stand in local elections. GAM would be disarmed and Indonesia would withdraw military and police from Aceh. The government promised to release GAM members imprisoned for political reasons. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be formed. The peace agreement also proposed that a special court for human rights crimes committed in Aceh after August 2005 be established. The peace process itself would be overseen by a group of observers (AMM), appointed by the EU and the Asian cooperation organization Asean.
The political prisoners were released in the fall of 2005. The disarmament of GAM was completed in December and the military troop retreat was completed before the end of the year. Only 15,000 soldiers and 9,000 police officers remained in the province, according to the agreement. In April 2006, nine of GAM leaders in Sweden visited Aceh for the first time in 30 years.
In July 2006, the Indonesian Parliament passed a law giving Aceh greater autonomy than any other province in the country. In addition, Aceh gained control of 70 percent of the province’s oil and gas revenues. The law also means that two percent of Indonesia’s state budget for 20 years will go to rebuilding Aceh after the war and tsunami. The law gave GAM the right to register as a political party and Aceh could formally introduce Sharia in the judiciary.
The Aceh Party forms a provincial government
In December 2006, direct local elections were held in Aceh for the first time. The elections included, among other things, the post of provincial governor. Earlier, the governors had been appointed by the Indonesian government. During the election movement, a crack could be discerned within the GAM between the older leaders who were in Sweden during the conflict and younger GAM leaders who remained in Aceh during the unrest.
Winning was the independent candidate Irwandi Yusuf, who was mainly supported by GAM’s young leadership. Irwandi Yusuf was a high-ranking rebel leader when he was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to nine years in prison for high treason. He managed to escape from prison during the 2004 flood wave disaster and was later acquitted as part of the peace process.
The elections confirmed the people’s support for GAM, which won many entries. Representatives of both the UN and the AMM considered that the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner. In December 2006, AMM formally completed its assignment in Aceh.
In the April 2009 provincial assembly election, the Aceh Party (Partai Aceh; former GAM) received 33 of the 69 seats and became the largest party. No other local party got a seat in the congregation. President Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party (PD) got 10 seats, Golkar 8 seats and the Muslim party PAN 5 seats. The other mandates were distributed among a number of smaller, national parties. The Aceh Party formed a provincial government.
High crime and social anxiety
A major challenge was to integrate all former opponents into peaceful everyday life. Unemployment was high among the ex-rebels. A mafia-like crime had developed in the province, organized by former opponents. It also remained to investigate the many violations of human rights committed during the conflict. Occasional outbreaks of violence occurred, but peace was described as sustainable.
In December 2010, Aceh’s provincial government received praise in a report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for astonishing progress in the physical rebuilding of the community after the Christmas 2004 tsunami. While the UNDP wrote that the recovery has progressed better than anyone dared to believe when the tsunami occurred six years ago, more needs to be done regarding poverty reduction, gender equality and the province’s chances to minimize the effects of new natural disasters in the future. Aceh is one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces and is located in a severe earthquake-stricken area.
The Aceh Party dominates politics
When governor elections were held again in Aceh in April 2012, Aceh Party candidate Zaini Abdullah (physician and former “foreign minister” in the GAM’s exile government) won by a wide margin over incumbent governor Irwandi Yusuf. Even in the district and mayoral elections, which were held at the same time, the Aceh party won big with 55 percent of the total number of votes. The election campaign was dominated by questions about the lack of security and the province’s economy. The months before the election were marked by extensive electoral-related violence, including Irwandi Yusuf being subjected to several murder attempts.
The Aceh party’s great victory was thought to be due to the fact that it could benefit from its origins in the GAM, which was associated with the freedom struggle and the peace agreement. But the Aceh Party’s way of emphasizing to the electorate that the former GAM rebels stood as guarantors of security, and that new strife threatened if the Acehnese did not vote for them, was also considered to have contributed to the victory. In addition, since the guerrilla period, the organization has a strong presence at grassroots level in the districts.
Peace in Aceh is considered sustainable, but relations between the province and the government in Jakarta are still strained. Tensions rose to the surface in spring 2013 when both Acehbor and Indonesian politicians were upset by the Aceh Party-led provincial assembly choosing GAM’s old banner as the official provincial flag. Indonesian authorities perceived the decision as provocative and demanded that it be revoked. Supporters of the provincial assembly’s decision pointed out that the Acehnese have the right to choose which flag they want, while the Jakarta Central Government referred to a clause in the peace agreement that bans separatist symbols. Thousands of Aceshans went out into the streets of Banda Aceh to support, as well as protest against, the flag election.
In a report that year, the Indonesian government was criticized by Amnesty International for not living up to its commitments in the peace agreement. The reason for the criticism was that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission had not yet been set up. The Human Rights Organization therefore felt that many of the victims of the conflict – and their relatives – had not yet recovered. Furthermore, the fact that many perpetrators go free can lead to a bitterness that increases the risk of new outbreaks of violence, Amnesty warned.
Muslim Sharia courts
Aceh is the only Indonesian province where Shari’a courts are formally allowed in accordance with the 2005 peace agreement. The decision became law when the provincial government adopted it in October 2015. Then adultery, alcohol consumption, gambling and homosexuality became punishable, usually with impunity. Non-Muslims, both Indonesians and foreigners, can also be punished if they commit these “crimes” with a Muslim.
The Muslim Sharia law is applied mainly in civil litigation and as rules of order and morality. The punishment is usually punishment or fines which can be imposed for, for example, the sale and consumption of alcohol and for gambling. The provincial assembly has made the controversial decision that adultery should be punishable by stoning. However, this decision has not been signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah and has therefore not come into force.
Aceh’s sharia laws have been criticized by human rights organizations who believe they discriminate against women. The criticism mainly concerns a number of rules for decent clothing and appropriate lifestyle.
In Aceh there is a morality police (wilayatul hisbah), who is often accused of harassing women. The Shari police, for example, have intervened against women who wear too tight jeans. It is also not allowed for unmarried men and women to spend time with one another in “isolated places”.
Churches are torn down and burned down
In October 2015, a radical Islamic youth group demanded that the local government demolish a number of churches in the province that the group claimed had been built without a permit. The local authorities promised to investigate, but a week later the youth took the matter into their own hands and burned down a church in southern Aceh. When violent riots broke out between hundreds of Muslims and Christians in connection with the burning of the church, one Muslim man was shot dead and four other people injured by stone throwing. With the support of the military, the police were able to calm down the situation and restore order.
A week later, the authorities decided to demolish ten small, simply built churches. Three of them were immediately demolished by security forces. The decision came after a long period of pressure from radical Islamic groups in the province.
Aceh’s local parliament later this fall passed a law that allows gay acts performed by Muslims (including foreigners) to be punished by a hundred whips. At the same time, the congregation once again decided that adultery should be illegal and punishable by a hundred whips. The respected Indonesian human rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace condemned the decision as “cruel, inhumane and unconstitutional”. In other Indonesia, homosexuality is not illegal.
In January 2016, just over a hundred former GAM rebels, who have been hiding in the jungle since the 2005 peace agreement and committed serious crimes there, according to an official Indonesian source.
From time to time, Aceh’s application of Sharia law received continued attention in international media. In January 2018, a Christian Indonesian was whipped in public with 16 rapes outside a mosque in Banda Aceh. The punishment took place before a disgruntled crowd, including several children, for the man selling alcohol. He was the third Christian to be sentenced to whip punishment since Sharia law was introduced in Aceh in 2001. He was one of ten people, eight men and two women, who were whipped publicly after Friday prayers as punishments for crimes such as plagiarism, prostitution and illegal gambling. Non-Muslims in Aceh can choose to be examined by a Sharia court or a regular court. The man in question may have chosen the Sharia court to avoid a lengthy trial in the non-religious court.
The Aceh Party has continued to dominate politics in the province. In July 2017, Irwandi Yusuf returned as governor.
In 1965, the movement initiated the Organization of a Free Papua (Organizational Papua Merdeka, OPM) an armed struggle for an independent Papua (1972-2000 called Irian Jaya). This is a requirement that has been unacceptable to Indonesia throughout the years, whose sovereignty over the area is recognized by the UN but questioned by many residents and parts of the world.
No one knows for sure how many people have been killed as a result of the separatist uprising in Papua since 1965. Estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps half a million victims. During the battles fought between the OPM and the Indonesian military, several serious human rights violations have been committed by both sides according to human rights organizations. Military and security forces have been guilty of a number of political murders and tortures, even against civilians, while OPM, among other things, carried out kidnappings.
Papua is located on the island of New Guinea at the far east of the Indonesian island world and has never been fully integrated with the rest of Indonesia. Papuan descent and culture have more in common with the peoples of the Pacific than with the Indonesians. In addition, the area is far from Java and the capital Jakarta.
Papua was part of the Dutch colony that became Indonesia in 1949, but the Dutch refused to release the area to the Indonesians. It was not until 1962 that a UN administration was able to take over control of Papua, which was handed over to Indonesia the following year. However, a requirement from the UN was that the Papuans should hold a referendum on the future status of the area. This happened in 1968, but then only a small group of Indonesian-friendly Papuans got to vote. Furthermore, the vote was held under the direct control of the Indonesian military and no international observers were present. The result was thus a unanimous agreement for integration with Indonesia.
In the following decades, the Indonesian government, with the help of the military, took full control of Papua’s natural riches, which mainly consist of gold and copper resources as well as forests. The huge profits from the exploitation went largely in full to the government, without benefiting the Papuans. In addition, a conscious policy was taken from Jakarta to suppress the local cultures of Papua. This was mainly done by encouraging Indonesians from primarily Java to move there. These two circumstances were the main reasons why OPM began its armed uprising in 1965. Gerilla attacks were carried out against Indonesian interests, not least the mining industry, from bases in neighboring Papua New Guinea. The military was given almost unlimited powers to fight the insurgency.
In the late 1990s, a peaceful, well-organized Papuan resistance movement emerged alongside the OPM, which was markedly weakened by the military’s offensive. Inspired by East Timor’s release in 1999, the movement aimed to achieve peace through negotiations with Jakarta. The protest groups gathered under the umbrella organization PDP (Presidium Dewan Papua) whose leader was named Theys Eluay.
In 2000, a dialogue began between President Wahid and the PDP, which got the name of the territory changed from Irian Jaya to Papua. It was also allowed to raise its own flag alongside the Indonesian. In addition, Papua gained some autonomy.
Mining part of the conflict
The dialogue came to an abrupt end when Theys Eluay was found tortured and choked to death at the end of 2001. Mass protests were triggered and a police investigation was set up. In April 2003, seven members of the Indonesian elite Kopassus were sentenced to prison for the murder.
In 2002, Papua was granted increased autonomy and the right to almost 80 percent of the profits from natural resources. Three years later, the Papuan People’s Council (MRP) was set up to represent the Papuans to the Indonesian government. In the Council, people are in a leading position locally. However, MRP has been criticized for being powerless.
The extensive and environmentally damaging mining in Papua has long been an important part of the conflict. The extractive right has the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan. The largest gold and copper mine generates millions of dollars a day in revenue. Freeport is thus one of the largest taxpayers in Indonesia, which means that the Indonesian state also earns a lot of money on mining.
The joint interest of the mines and the state in mining has led to it becoming a symbol of oppression for the Papuans. The Freeport mine has been the subject of repeated protests and guerrilla raids over the years. The mine management therefore took a long time to help the Indonesian military to protect the employees, which also provided large revenues to the military. In 2006, the police formally assumed responsibility for protecting the mine.
The low-intensity warfare between the security forces and OPM continued during the 2000s and 2010s. The reports of serious human rights violations by Indonesian military and Indonesian-friendly militia have also continued to come. OPM, for its part, carries out assaults and sabotages, but the movement is considered to be severely broken, poorly organized and ill-equipped.
In 2006, there was an escalation of the unrest. Clashes between soldiers and protesters against mining led to several deaths on both sides. The violence led to Indonesian troops reinforcing and the situation temporarily stabilized.
During the 2009 election year, violence again increased as militant independence supporters tried to get the outside world to pay attention to the conflict in Papua by sabotaging the electoral process. About 10 people were killed in election-related violence. A new militant group appeared on the scene, the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), which is believed to have contacts with the OPM.
In June 2010, the Papuan People’s Council (MRP) rejected a proposal for increased autonomy. Thousands of people gathered on Jayapura’s streets during the summer to demand a new referendum on Papua’s future status.
In October 2010, a video was posted on the internet showing how three soldiers tortured two civilian Papuans. The perpetrators accused the men of cooperating with OPM. In January 2011, an Indonesian court sentenced the soldiers to prison for between eight and ten months for disobedience. Human rights organizations criticized the judges for being overly lenient and for the fact that the criminal recourse should have been torture, not disobedience.
In September 2011, around 8,000 employees at the Freeport-McMoRan mine began a strike for wage increases of 300 percent. In October, the strikers clashed with police after protesters tried to stop deputies from entering the mining area. The police shot sharply against the strikers, who should have thrown stones at the police. At least one demonstrator was killed.
Amnesty International demanded an investigation into the deaths and Indonesia President Yudhoyono said that police who shot at the protesters would be punished. Somewhat later, unknown perpetrators shot three substitutes who were on their way into the mine. A total of nine people were killed in clashes with police or by assaults carried out by unknown perpetrators.
At the end of October, Freeport-McMoRan explained that the strike meant that the mine could no longer be responsible for the copper deliveries promised. Production was halved during the three months of the strike. In December, the parties agreed to raise wages by 37 percent over a two-year period.
Independence leader killed
December 1, 2011 became a troubled day in Papua, when people wanted to recognize that it was 50 years since Papua declared itself independent. Occasional violence erupted in several places where people gathered. In Timika, not far from the Freeport mine, activists stated that several people were injured when police fired at them when they hoisted the Papuan flag Morning Star. The police rejected the information.
Independence leader Mako Tabuni was shot dead by police in June 2012 after he tried to escape an arrest in Jayapura. The data went apart as to whether or not Tabuni was armed at the time. Authorities accused Tabuni of lying behind violence and unrest in Papua during the spring. The shooting led to violent protest demonstrations in Jayapura and surrounding areas.
The situation in Papua remained tense during the period 2012–2014 and the reporting of violence between security police and separatists continued. Dozens of people, including security officers, soldiers, government officials and Papuan separatist leaders, were killed in the unrest. OPM rebels are suspected to be behind a series of attacks against police and military posts.
Reporters Without Borders wrote in a report in the fall of 2015 that President Widodo’s first year as president was disappointing as he did not live up to the expectations of increased media and information freedom. Although the special permit previously required for journalists to visit Papua was removed, media workers who visited the area were still monitored and it happened that they were also harassed by the military and security forces.
Separatist leader Filep Karma was released in November 2015 after being jailed since 2004, when he was convicted of high treason for raising the banned Papuan flag Morning Star.
The conflict continues
In the fall of 2017, once again the low-intensity conflict in Papua was noticed when around 700 heavily armed soldiers surrounded two villages, right next to McMoRan’s gold and copper mine. This happened since OPM separatists in turn made a ring around the villages. A war of attitudes ensued when both parties blamed each other for holding around 1,300 villagers hostage.
At the end of 2018, a separatist group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), conducted a massacre in Nduga on some 20 Indonesian construction workers. According to the military, 16 dead bodies were found at the scene. The workers were employed by a government company that built roads and bridges in Papua. The Widodo government has tried to curb the insurgency in Papua by fighting corruption, inequality, underdevelopment and poverty, but some Papuans are opposed to the Indonesian state’s development plans as they are in fact a way to increase control over Papua.
A wave of violence erupted in Papua in mid-August 2019 with dozens of deaths as a result. The claims were triggered by information that more than 40 Papuan students in Surabaya, Java, were arrested and interrogated by the police for hoisting the Papuan flag. The events in Surabaya should also have had elements of racism directed at the Papuan students. The provincial parliament in Manokwari in western Papua was burned down and at the end of September a public office building in Wamena was set on fire. In the recent fire, more than 20 people were killed, mainly Indonesians from other parts of the country. In a number of different cities, shops, housing, municipal offices, and more were vandalized. The unrest also had elements of separatism, as groups fighting for a free Papua were also out on the streets. Thousands of civilians, including many women and children, escaped the violence by taking shelter in military garrisons, police stations, local churches and municipal offices. Many also tried to flee abroad. In October, the Air Force evacuated nearly 12,000 Indonesian migrants.