Country profile - Indonesia

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Country Profile: Indonesia

15 years ago, Indonesia’s leader was Soeharto. He ruled for 32 years. At the beginning, he killed around a million members of the Communist Party. And at the end there were massive street demonstrations in the economic collapse. Soeharto’s government reduced the poverty and gave primary education to all. But there was a lot of censorship and a controlling system of administration.


Since then, Indonesia has made progress. But it has been difficult. Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono (SBY) is the president now. He was a military officer in East Timor under Soeharto, but he has kept the army away from politics.


A lady selling oil lamps in a market on the island of Sumba. On some islands, there is no electrical power, or it is often unreliable.(Josh Estey)

At first, people thought SBY was a good manager of the economy, and that he wanted to change many things (health, education, local government and community institutions). He has strongly supported PNPM, the national plan to cut poverty and give power to the community. They give microcredit to poor people and money to local communities for developing villages.


Flooding in central Jakarta.(Josh Estey)

After these successes, the government has become more and more unpopular. Many people think the government is weak, bad at making decisions, and no longer wants to change the country. This is partly because it gave away some power, and made agreements which stopped some changes in environmental management, minority rights and ending corruption.

No-one ever thought it would be easy to end corruption: in 2012, nearly a third of Indonesia’s 550 district heads went to court for corruption (more than $100,000 each). The President’s Democratic Party has had a lot of corruption and bribery scandals. And SBY often seems to protect party members and senior military people.


A crowded kampung in central Jakarta; the poor are now being pushed to slums outside the city. (Josh Estey)

So many people no longer believe in the political and economic reforms, and it is worrying that they want the ‘good old days’ of the Soeharto government. The next presidential election will be in 2014, and one of the most popular candidates is General Prabowo Subianto. He used to be married to Soeharto’s daughter, hates the Chinese, and is trying to get everyone to forget how he put democracy activists in prison and tortured them.

Indonesia still has problems. Almost half the country’s population still lives on less than two dollars per day. In rural areas, particularly in the eastern provinces, there are high rates of malnutrition and child and maternal mortality. But in the big cities there has been a lot of private development, with lots of new shopping malls and stylish apartment blocks instead of the flood controls, roads, and public parks that they need. When it rains, there are serious floods and no electricity because of Jakarta’s old canals and dykes. So the whole city stops for days. But even though it’s difficult, a lot of people still come from the countryside to the city looking for work and a better life. Many people live in illegal places on the edge of the city or by the canals.


A goat on the wall of the main cemetery in central Jakarta (Josh Estey)

The basis of Indonesia’s economy is still strong. It has an active middle class and the poorer people are getting more power to demand basic services. The big question is: will other powers try to control its progress? The story is still being written, as the country is going through one more ‘dangerous decade’.

Country Profile: Indonesia Fact File

Leader President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono

Economy GNI per capita $2,940 (Malaysia $8,770, Australia $49,130). Since 2004, the economy has grown by more than 6% per year and Indonesia is now a ‘middle-income country’. But about half the people live on less than two dollars a day, with many unemployed or underemployed.

Monetary unit Indonesian rupiah

Main exports Gas, wood, textiles and rubber. Indonesia is the world’s largest tin producer

People 239.9 million – the world’s fourth biggest population. About 58% live on the island of Java. A good family planning programme, so slow population growth (and declining), at 1.04%.

Health Infant mortality rate 27 per 1,000 live births (Malaysia 5, Australia 4). Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 190 (Australia 1 in 7,400). The HIV rate in Papua and West Papua is around 2.4%, more than 10 times the national average and the WHO limit of an epidemic. Indonesia is introducing a social health insurance system for everyone.

Environment Transnational wood and palm-oil companies are cutting down large areas of forest, and replacing them with plantations. So very big areas of Kalimantan burn in bush fires. This causes a lot of smog over the whole region. It is now more difficult for central government to protect the environment because of regional autonomy.

Culture Many different cultures, hundreds of different ethnic groups in the different islands.

Religion 87% Muslim, 7% Protestant, 3% Catholic, 2% Hindu, and 1% Buddhist (2010 census). The form of Islam many Javanese people follow has Hindu and animist elements.

Language Bahasa Indonesia (official) is spoken by almost all citizens. But there are about 500 local languages spoken on different islands.

Human development index 0.629 – 121st of 187 countries (Malaysia 0.769, Australia 0.938)


Country Profile: Indonesia ratings in detail

Income distribution Large differences between rural and urban areas and between the poor eastern areas and the richer western areas. The Gini index has gone up from 0.31 in 1999 to 0.41 in 2011 (0.4 is a danger point for social instability)

Life expectancy 69 years (Malaysia 74, Australia 82)

Position of women Women earn less than men, face discrimination in law, and often marry very young, particularly in rural areas. But women traders often control their own businesses, there are as many girls as boys at school and there is a strong women’s movement.

Literacy 92%. Lowest in the east, but still OK.

Freedom The rights to free expression, worship, and assembly are usually respected, but people have attacked religious minorities and threatened journalists. The record is worse the further away one from Jakarta you are, and is terrible in West Papua, where activists are often said to be tortured.

Sexual minorities Homosexuality is not against the law. There are a lot of gay people in Jakarta and the big cities, and a lot of support groups. But some regions have a type of sharia law that fines or imprisons people for homosexual acts.

NI Assessment (Politics) Indonesia has been successful in some of its changes from an authoritarian dictatorship to a parliamentary democracy. The control of many basic services has passed to elected district governments. National, regional and district elections are more or less free, fair and democratic. But there is a lot of corruption at high levels and there are some worrying signs that they are returning to authoritarianism, particularly some of the presidential candidates for the 2014 election. Indonesians are getting less and less happy with the process of change.

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