Thu, 06 Jan 2000

RI on the brink of disintegration?

By Desra Percaya

LONDON (JP): Indonesia has been utterly engulfed by the reemergence of separatist movements and religious and ethnic conflicts following the downfall of former presidents Soeharto and B.J. Habibie. The coming to power of President Abdurrahman Wahid has not in any way ended these phenomena. On the contrary, they have tended to escalate and further deteriorate respectively. This leads us to ask: Is Indonesia heading toward disintegration?

This article examines the sources of disintegration from international, regional and domestic perspectives.

The end of the Cold War has undoubtedly become a nightmare for many developing countries as it appeared to unleash the forces of nationalism that had been suppressed by many authoritarian regimes, either supported by anti-Communist American administrations or by the former Soviet Union.

Although these phenomena also occurred in developed countries, the main difference has been that in those countries the process tended to take place in a relatively peaceful manner, while in developing countries it often turned into bloodshed and violent events. This has been the case with Indonesia.

The transformation of international configuration has undoubtedly affected Indonesia, as its strategic and political importance vis-a-vis the Western powers, especially the United States, has dramatically diminished. This was particularly evident in the context of the fate of communism in international politics, which had been the driving force for the United States to support Indonesia under the New Order. Indeed, the signs of change took place after the coming of the Clinton administration, which placed human rights as one of America's foreign policy pillars. As a result, both governments were often on a collision course with each other.

Nevertheless, the United States does not want to see Indonesia disintegrate. Washington has always recognized the importance of Indonesia to its strategic interests in Asia, and the role Jakarta plays in regional diplomacy.

At a recent one-day conference on U.S.-Indonesia relations in Jakarta, the U.S. Ambassador, Robert S. Gelbard, extensively described the ups and downs of the relations between the two countries, and expressed America's satisfaction at the coming of democracy in Indonesia. More importantly, he underlined that American interests are best served by an Indonesia that is peaceful, stable, unified and prosperous.

Interestingly, in recent years there has emerged another player in international politics, namely non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their influence over decision-makers and their ability to shape public opinion should not be underestimated. In previous governments, Jakarta was always averse to NGOs. However, President Abdurrahman's determination to promote democracy and human rights should place him at ease in dealing with them.

In this regard, cooperation should be extended to those NGOs that are genuinely concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy. Thus, they should see by themselves the complexities of the problems and dilemmas faced by the government, particularly the choice between respecting the right to self-determination and maintaining Indonesia's territorial integrity and unity.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) succeeded in maintaining the principle of noninterference and respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty among its members. This means that none of the ASEAN members should render any kind of support that might lead to the breakup of one of its fellow- members. The ASEAN countries do not want to see Indonesia disintegrate, a possibility which would not only create instability in the region, but could also trigger a similar movement in Southeast Asia.

Abdurrahman's government has shown its willingness to let its ASEAN counterparts discuss the problems in Indonesia that potentially have regional repercussions. This is a step forward from the previous era in which noninterference was a kind of sacred word.

Domestically, the source of disintegration should be examined from the concept of the state. What is a state? It is generally understood as primarily a political-legal concept which refers to an independent and autonomous political structure over a specific territory, with a comprehensive legal system, a sufficient concentration of the legal system and a sufficient concentration of power to maintain law and order. A state must fulfill the requirement of a physical base which includes provinces and population, institutions of some sort which govern the physical base, and the presence of an idea of the state which establishes its legitimacy in the minds of its people (Buzan, People, States and Fear, 1991).

By any standard, Indonesia is indisputably a developing country. Its creation was the product of the decolonization wave at the end of World War II. In terms of its boundaries, the Indonesian leaders claimed the vast territory of the Dutch East Indies to be part of Indonesia. Apart from the anomalies of the crushing of Malaysia and East Timor, Indonesia has never been a revisionist state and has always maintained a good neighbor policy.

Despite its wide range of diversities, the population which inhabited the provinces was considered as Indonesian. Accordingly, to keep the scattered provinces and diverse population intact, the leaders agreed to adopt an integralist state, which gave the executive a wide range of powers and authority.

As far as the idea of the state is concerned, its main sources are to be found in organizing ideology and the concept of a nation. Although the interpretation of ideology is concerned with a set of assumptions and ideas about social behavior and social systems, its application in the political field has been far- reaching. Indeed, Sukarno was able to introduce Pancasila as the basic state ideology. He expressed the idea of Pancasila to provide an ideology that all Indonesians could accept and depend upon to cultivate consensus and harmony among the diversified Indonesians.

Unfortunately, Sukarno's efforts at implementing Pancasila were overtaken by a sequence of political events, particularly during the implementation of "guided democracy". On the contrary, under the New Order, Pancasila was further elaborated and put into effect in almost every sense. It even became a national ideology and political platform for just about everything.

What is a nation? Mostafa Rejai and Cynthia H. Enloe define it as a relatively large group of people who feel that they belong together by virtue of sharing one or more traits such as a common language, religion or race, a common history or tradition, a common set of customs and a common destiny.

In his speech on the introduction of Pancasila on June 1, 1945, Sukarno also defined a nation by adopting Ernest Renan's views, which emphasize that the people felt themselves to be united and wanted to be united. Sukarno also quoted Otto Bauer who defines a nation as a community of character, which has grown out of a community of shared experience.

Indonesia can therefore be categorized as a multiethnic nation-state, which means that the state (read the government) plays an instrumental role in creating the nation, rather than the other way round.

This fact has led to many of the difficulties that Indonesia has encountered in integrating its various ethnic, cultural and religious divisions into one single entity of the nation by encouraging people to show their loyalty to the newly-created state or the 'nation-building' process.

Unlike the other two elements, the idea of the state is considered as the most abstract part, but it is also the most important one. The reason is because of its ability to unite the population or to explain why the people are bound together into a sociopolitical and territorial entity.

It is from this perspective that the source of disintegration mainly originates. Abdurrahman's government is in the process of transformation toward democracy that has recently emerged from the previously authoritarian and weak central governments. Accordingly, the idea of the state needs to be rejuvenated to enable it to glue the elements of the provinces, population and institution into a strong state with solid sociopolitical cohesion.

It is a matter of urgency, therefore, for the President to address the acute problem of Indonesia's unity, to put the nation-building process back on track and to revive a shared common purpose and loyalty.

The involvement of a deeper root of participation among the population and informal leaders, such as Nurcholish Madjid, popularly known as Cak Nur, are paramount.

Unless immediate action is taken, disintegration will undoubtedly turn from a possibility into a reality. If this were to happen, Indonesian leaders could only blame only themselves. Therefore the political bonds among the country's elite leaders must be broken immediately. Over to you Cak Nur.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics, Durham University, United Kingdom.