Focus on Indonesia on the Map. Source: "World reference atlas" Photo: iStock
Focus on Indonesia on the Map. Source: "World reference atlas" Photo: iStock

Twenty years ago, on the rooftop of the Indonesian parliament office, the Nusantara Building, there were six reform agendas proclaimed by the 1998 Indonesian student movement. The activists demanded: (i) the prosecution of Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, and his cronies; (ii) the amendment of the constitution; (iii) the abolition of the dual function of the Republic of Indonesia Armed Forces (ABRI); (iv) the implementation of the broadest possible regional autonomy; (v) the supremacy of law; and (vi) the elimination of corruption, collusion and nepotism.

I would like to analyze the agendas separately. First, Suharto had stepped down, in the sense that he had not been impeached. The fact that during his last speech as the president, he clearly stated that he resigned because he was not able to lead the way of the reform agenda.

The allegations against Suharto include human-rights violations, and other crimes and civil court matters. In the matter of human-rights violations, based on a research by the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), an Indonesian NGO, there are at least 10 large cases of human rights violations involving Suharto. They include: The Buru Island Case (1965-1966)Mysterious Shootings (Petrus) (1981-1985), The Tanjung Priok Case (1948-1987), The Talangsari Case (1984-1987), The Case of the Military Operations Region in Aceh (1989-1998); the abductions of pro-democracy activists (1997-1998), the Trisakti Shootings and Violence in the Riots of Indonesia (May 1998 ).

According to Kontras, thousands were persecuted and murdered, and those responsible were not held accountable

According to Kontras, thousands were persecuted and murdered, and those responsible were not held accountable.

Transparency International noted in 2004, that in criminal cases specially targeting corruption, Suharto was the world’s most corrupt president, with his family’s takings estimated at between $15 billion and $35 billion. The various acts of corruption perpetrated by Suharto, for instance, included regulations requiring state-owned banks to share profits with his family foundation.

The attorney general of Indonesia sued Suharto and the Supersemar Foundation for the return of state assets of RS1.5 trillion (for material damages) and Rs10 trillion (for immaterial losses).

In October 2017, the Supreme Court issued a verdict requiring that the Supersemar Foundation return state assets of Rs4.4 trillion. The execution of the verdict has been in process until now.

The second point is the amendment of the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. The constitution was amended four times between 1999 and 2000. It has affirmed sovereignty in the hands of the people and eliminated the position of the highest state institution. Some experts  believe further constitutional changes are needed to clarify the structure of the House Committee  (DPD) in the constitutional system and to improve the overlapping articles in the constitution.

Furthermore, the dual function of the military (ABRI) in the political system needs to be abolished. The dual function of ABRI has been in decline since Suharto resigned from his post as president in 1998, but soldiers are allowed to participate in politics when they retire from military life.

The next agenda is the implementation of regional autonomy as much as possible. Elections have been implemented at the regional level throughout Indonesia. Even the smallest government body, the village government, has been given some authority to run things and is supported by a special budget.

The next point, the upholding of the supremacy of law, is an expansive topic because it is so fundamental to the national reform agenda.

The Indonesian Legal Roundtable (ILR) uses five indicators in its research to assess the state of the rule of law in Indonesia. They are the principle of formal legality, the principle of judicial power, access to justice, observance of the law, and respect for human rights.

The national well being has changed considerably over the years. and the tendency to suppress the rule of law has decreased.

The last point is the mission to create an honest government despite the history of corruption, collusion and nepotism. The eradication of corruption in Indonesia has been driven by the Independent Commission (KPK) since the onset of reforms. The KPK has accused many state officials of abusing their power to enrich themselves. However, the KPK faces great challenges in its efforts to resolve large-scale corruption cases such as the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance Fund (state losses in that reached Rp 138.4 trillion) and the Bank Century bailout scandal (which reportedly amounted to more than Rp 7 trillion (US$508 million) in state losses).

Transparency International’s 2017 index of corruption perceptions of countries put Indonesia at 96th rank out of 180 countries. There have been no significant changes over the last decade.

Alek K Kurniawan is an independent journalist base on Indonesia. He has studied international law at Andalas University; and regional development at Indef School of Political Economy. He can be contacted via e-mail at

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