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Ten Years After the Indonesian Reformasi (1998-2008)

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Meeting with The Honorable Nursyahbani Katjasungkana

Two weeks ago ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian States) had their fourteenth Summit (this year their get together began on July 24th in Thailand).  ASEAN is a regional alliance of ten nations that quite prominently includes insular Eastern Southern Asia.  The largest and most powerful of those nations is Indonesia–which nation has the highest population of Muslims in the World.

On the last weekend of April, three different centers at the University of California Berkeley each sponsored programs with important Islamic content.  The two conferences relevant to this report are one on Islamophobia, and another on "Reformasi in Indonesia." I decided to attend and report on the one conference covering Islamophobia. 

Concurrently, another Conference was being held, “Ten Years After:  Reformasi & New Social Movements in Indonesia.”  Fortunately, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Berkeley sent me a podcast of the two most important speakers.  This file was part of a special Forum sponsored by both U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A. held in Northern California.  The two individuals speaking were Hilmar Farid, who is an illustrious human rights activist and a celebrated Indonesian historian — I shall explore his comments in a later article — and the political representative Nursyahbahani Katjasungkana. 

The Honorable Ms. Katjasungkana, a member of Jakarta’s Parliament, represented the National Awakening Party (Partal Kebangkitan Bangsa), the Party of the former President Abdurrahman Wahid, 1999-2001.  Wahid had been a reformer even though his presidency was marked by internal impediments–under pressure of the Armed Services, the parliament was compelled to impeach him, denying him three years of his mandate. 

Nursyahbani, before becoming a Parliamentarian, was a prominent human rights lawyer and the founder (1995) of the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) the Women’s Association for Justice (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum-Asosiasi Perempuan Indonesia untuk Keadilan) established during the reign of the brutal, corrupt dictator Suharto.  Her NGO’s mission is still to promote women’s rights over the islands.  

Her personal journey has taken her from being a human rights activist to a parliamentarian! She defended her course by stating that human rights and policy reform has to be endorsed by the parliament.  She pointed out, “Many scholars believe that Indonesia is a deficit democracy,” but she is working to divert that assessment. 

While, as a parliamentian, she has been fighting to make human rights secure, she is struggling to democratize her own Party.  The democratic system was written into the 1945 Constitution, but under Suharto one of the worst genocides of the 20th Century took place.  Eventually, Suharto was forced to step down from the presidency in 1998 by elements of civil society. 

Suharto’s (Vice) President Josuf Habbie (1998-1999) was sworn in as president.  Katjnasungkana felt Habibi did an excellent, preparing the transition into democracy.  Unfortunately, the Parliament was still highly nationalistic, but Washington insisted on a type of Jefferson Democracy.  The 1945 Constitution was updated through amendment.  Nursyabhani stated, “These [Constitutional] adjustments must be dedicated to those who suffered and were martyred during the Suharto regime.”  In rewriting the 1945 text, a secular document developed, but which was based to some degree on Islamic principles.

Even so, the Shari’ah is enshrined within the limits of a secular state.  (In other words, it is the basis of Indonesia’s legal system, but has to co-exist within a varied federation.)   Her background in managing a feminist Non-Governmental Organization came through in her speech, “Laws based on sexuality [(i.e. gender) regrettably], have been employed to suppress woman” in the Indonesian Republic.

In the new Constitution, the National Defense Forces are separated from the internal police for the first time.  Common crimes are currently sent to the criminal courts – not to military justice.  The Armed Forces owned businesses are being divested with alacrity, and being handed directly over to the state.

Using the latest Charter as her basis, she works on bringing Indonesian law up to International human rights standards.  Still, under the innovative Manuscript, a great deal of the guilty Army officers cannot be prosecuted for past crimes committed during President Suharto’s regime.  Still, “Parliament continues to be riddled with corruption!” The Constitution has de-Centralized the government to prevent an overly pervasive fiscal policy controlled by Jakarta.  She believes this will discourage many economic crimes (i.e., corruption).  Following through on her constant theme, she deems that past human rights violations will be exposed.  (For this type of crime is often perpetrated out of personal greed!).  She is confident that many of these former violators will be brought to justice!

The civil Agreement formed innovative Institutions and Commissions.  The fresh Convention with the Public guarantees the separation of the Executive and the Legislature through the direct election of the President — (like the United States).  Civil Society forced the state to face women issues and education and to place them upon the regime’s budget.  (Eleven percent of Indonesian woman are a victims of domestic violence.)  A regulation was passed through the Legislature that at least thirty percent of each Commission and Department (i.e., Institution) had to have feminine representation.

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana ended her debriefing, “[Indonesia’s] legal and structural form [are quite strong]…I am very optimistic for the Democracy…” Regarding her own plans, “I shall strengthen my [own] position as a Parliamentarian to continue my life’s work!”


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