The History of Indonesia
Below is a brief history of Indonesia. To find information other than history for Indonesia then visit
the Indonesia Country Page.
By the time of the Renaissance, the islands of Java and Sumatra had already enjoyed a 1,000-year heritage of advanced civilization spanning two major empires. During the 7th-14th centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. At its peak, the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as West Java and the Malay Peninsula. Also by the 14th century, the Hindu Kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gadjah Mada, the empire's chief minister from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now modern Indonesia and much of the Malay archipelago as well. Legacies from Gadjah Mada's time include a codification of law and an epic poem. Islam arrived in Indonesia sometime during the 12th century and, through assimilation, supplanted Hinduism by the end of the 16th century in Java and Sumatra. Bali, however, remains overwhelmingly Hindu. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic proselytizing took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, and, currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands.
Beginning in 1602, the Dutch slowly established themselves as rulers of present-day Indonesia, exploiting the weakness of the small kingdoms that had replaced that of Majapahit. The only exception was East Timor, which remained under Portugal until 1975. During 300 years of Dutch rule, the Dutch developed the Netherlands East Indies into one of the world's richest colonial possessions.
During the first decade of the 20th century, an Indonesian independence movement began and expanded rapidly, particularly between the two World Wars. Its leaders came from a small group of young professionals and students, some of whom had been educated in the Netherlands. Many, including Indonesia's first president, Soekarno (1945-67), were imprisoned for political activities.
The Japanese occupied Indonesia for 3 years during World War II. On August 17, 1945, 3 days after the Japanese surrender to the Allies a small group of Indonesians, led by Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta, proclaimed independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. They set up a provisional government and adopted a constitution to govern the republic until elections could be held and a new constitution written. Dutch efforts to reestablish complete control met strong resistance. After 4 years of warfare and negotiations, the Dutch transferred sovereignty to a federal Indonesian Government. In 1950, Indonesia became the 60th member of the United Nations.
Shortly after hostilities with the Dutch ended in 1949, Indonesia adopted a new constitution providing for a parliamentary system of government in which the executive was chosen by and made responsible to parliament. Parliament was divided among many political parties before and after the country's first nationwide election in 1955, and stable governmental coalitions were difficult to achieve. The role of Islam in Indonesia became a divisive issue. Soekarno defended a secular state based on Pancasila while some Muslim groups preferred either an Islamic state or a constitution which included preambular provision requiring adherents of Islam to be subject to Islamic law. At the time of independence, the Dutch retained control over the western half of New Guinea, and permitted steps toward self-government and independence.
Negotiations with the Dutch on the incorporation of the territory into Indonesia failed, and armed clashes broke out between Indonesian and Dutch troops in 1961. In August 1962, the two sides reached an agreement, and Indonesia assumed administrative responsibility for Irian Jaya on May 1, 1963. The Indonesian Government conducted an "Act of Free Choice" in Irian Jaya under UN supervision in 1969, in which 1,025 Irianese representatives of local councils agreed by consensus to remain a part of Indonesia. A subsequent UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia. Opposition to Indonesian administration of Irian Jaya, also known as Papua or West Papua, gave rise to smallscale guerrilla activity in the years following Jakarta's assumption of control. In the more open atmosphere since 1998, there have been more explicit expressions within Irian Jaya of a desire for independence from Indonesia.
From 1524 to 1975, East Timor was a Portuguese colony on the island of Timor, separated from Australia's north coast by the Timor Sea. As a result of political events in Portugal, Portuguese authorities abruptly withdrew from Timor in 1975, exacerbating power struggles among several Timorese political factions. An avowedly Marxist faction called "Fretilin" achieved military superiority. Fretilin's ascent in an area contiguous to Indonesian territory alarmed the Indonesian Government, which regarded it as a threatening movement. Following appeals from some of Fretilin's Timorese opponents, Indonesian military forces intervened in East Timor and overcame Fretilin's regular forces in 1975-76. Smallscale guerrilla activity persisted after Indonesia declared East Timor its 27th province in 1976, following a petition by a provisional government for incorporation into Indonesia. The UN never recognized Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor and later brokered negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal on the territory's status. In January 1999, the Indonesian Government agreed to a process, with UN involvement, under which the people of East Timor would be allowed to choose between autonomy and independence through a direct ballot.
The direct ballot was held on August 30, 1999. Some 98% of registered voters cast their ballots, and 78.5% of the voters chose independence over continued integration with Indonesia. Many persons were killed in a wave of violence and destruction after the announcement of the pro-independence vote. In October 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) revoked the 1978 decree that annexed East Timor, and the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) assumed responsibility for administering East Timor until it became independent on May 20, 2002.
Unsuccessful rebellions on Sumatra, Sulawesi, West Java, and other islands beginning in 1958, plus a failure by the constituent assembly to develop a new constitution, weakened the parliamentary system. Consequently, in 1959, when President Soekarno unilaterally revived the provisional 1945 constitution, which gave broad presidential powers, he met little resistance. From 1959 to 1965, President Soekarno imposed an authoritarian regime under the label of "Guided Democracy." He also moved Indonesia's foreign policy toward nonalignment, a foreign policy stance supported by other prominent leaders of former colonies who rejected formal alliances with either the Western or Soviet blocs. Under Soekarno's auspices, these leaders gathered in Bandung, West Java, 1955, to lay the groundwork for what became known as the Non-Aligned Movement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, President Soekarno moved closer to Asian communist states and toward the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in domestic affairs. Though the PKI represented the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China, its mass support base never demonstrated an ideological adherence typical of communist parties in other countries.
By 1965, the PKI controlled many of the mass civic and cultural organizations that Soekarno had established to mobilize support for his regime and, with Soekarno's acquiescence, embarked on a campaign to establish a "Fifth Column" by arming its supporters. Army leaders resisted this campaign. Under circumstances that have never been fully explained, on October 1, 1965, PKI sympathizers within the military, including elements from Soekarno's palace guard, occupied key locations in Jakarta and kidnapped and murdered six senior generals. Major General Soeharto, the commander of the Army Strategic Reserve, rallied army troops opposed to the PKI to reestablish control over the city. Violence swept throughout Indonesia in the aftermath of the October 1 events, and unsettled conditions persisted through 1966. Rightist gangs killed tens of thousands of alleged communists in rural areas. Estimates of the number of deaths range between 160,000 and 500,000. The violence was especially brutal in Java and Bali. During this period, PKI members by the tens of thousands turned in their membership cards. The emotions and fears of instability created by this crisis persisted for many years; the communist party remains banned from Indonesia.
Throughout the 1965-66 period, President Soekarno vainly attempted to restore his political position and shift the country back to its pre-October 1965 position. Although he remained president, in March 1966, Soekarno had to transfer key political and military powers to General Soeharto, who by that time had become head of the armed forces. In March 1967, the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) named General Soeharto acting president. Soekarno ceased to be a political force and lived under virtual house arrest until his death in 1970.
President Soeharto proclaimed a "New Order" in Indonesian politics and dramatically shifted foreign and domestic policies away from the course set in Soekarno's final years. The New Order established economic rehabilitation and development as its primary goals and pursued its policies through an administrative structure dominated by the military but with advice from Western-educated economic experts.
In 1968, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) formally selected Soeharto to a full 5-year term as president, and he was re-elected to successive 5-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998. In mid-1997, Indonesia was afflicted by the Asian financial and economic crisis, accompanied by the worst drought in 50 years and falling prices for oil, gas, and other commodity exports. The rupiah plummeted, inflation soared, and capital flight accelerated. Demonstrators, initially led by students, called for Soeharto's resignation. Amidst widespread civil unrest, Soeharto resigned on May 21, 1998, 3 months after the MPR had selected him for a seventh term. Soeharto's hand-picked Vice President, B. J. Habibie, became Indonesia's third president.
President Habibie reestablished International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor community support for an economic stabilization program. He released several prominent political and labor prisoners, initated investigations into the unrest and lifted controls on the press, political parties, and labor unions. A special session of the MPR held in November 1998 advanced the date of parliamentary elections to June 1999 and the lower house of parliament (DPR) rewrote the laws governing the elections.
Elections for the national, provincial, and subprovincial parliaments were held on June 7, 1999, in which 48 parties competed. International and domestic observers and monitors declared that the elections, while not problem-free, had been free and fair. In early August, President Habibie ratified the poll count. For the national parliament, Parti Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle led by Megawati Soekarnoputri) won 34% of the vote; Golkar ("functional groups" party of the government) 22%; Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party led by Hamzah Haz) 12%; and Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party led by Nadhlatul Ulama, headed by Abdurrachman Wahid) 10%. Parliamentary seats were to be allocated according to new regulations and the 200 additional members of the MPR chosen. As described below, the MPR selected Abdurrahman Wahid as Indonesia's fourth President in November 1999 and replaced him with Megawati Soekarnoputri in July 2001.