Indonesia: The Irony of Success

Issue Date April 2010
Volume 21
Issue 2
Page Numbers 20-34
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Indonesia is alternately lauded as a democratization success story and derided as an exemplar of low-quality democracy. This article explains both Indonesian democracy’s surprising survival and its defects by focusing on how it fended off three potential spoilers: the military, Islamism and ethnic and regional unrest. In each case, democratic spoilers were granted concessions and incorporated into the democratic system, rather than being excluded from it, pointing to an absorptive capacity in Indonesian democracy inherited from the predecessor authoritarian Suharto regime. Indonesian democracy’s resilience and its defects are not in fundamental conflict, but are two sides of the one coin.