Indonesia Since Independence – Guided Democracy 1959 to 1965

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Euphoria swept through the cities and towns of Indonesia following the withdrawal of Dutch forces and the secural of Indonesian sovereigntly

Mass rallies and procession were held; flag waving crowds thronged the streets shouting the magical words: “Merdeka, merdeka!” (freedom, freedom!). Independence had come at last, and thoygh many obstacles remaind, Indonesian felt that nothing was impossible now that they held their destiny in their own hands.

Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the slow and arduous process of contructing a peacetime government had begun. And while the inufying power of the revolution had done much to forge a coherent state, the fact of Indonesia’s remarkable ethnic, religious and idelogical diversity remained. Moreover, massive economic and social problems faced the new nation – a legacy of colonia;ism and war. Factories and plantations were shut down, capital and skilled personnel were scarce, rice production was insufficient to meet demand, the Indonesia people were overhelmingly poor and illiterate, and the population was growing at an unprecedented rate. The inability of any single political group to effectively dominate all others clearly called for a system of government in which a variety of interests could be represented. Largely due to the high profile of Dutch-educated intellectuals among the nationalists, a western style parliamentary system of government wa adopted.

From the beginning, however, the existance of more than 30 rival parties paralysed the system. A string of weak coalition cabinets rose and afell at the rate of almost one a year, and attempts at cooperation were increasingly stymied not only by a growing ideological polarization, but also by religious and regional loyalties. Parties became more and more preoccupied with ensuring their own survival and less and less attentive toward the nation’s pressing economic and social needs, frustrating those who wished to see the revolution produce more tangible results. Most impatient of all were Soekarno, whose powers as President had been limited by the provisional constitution of 1950, and the army leadership, who felt that their key role during the revolution entitled them to a greater political say.

A series of uprising by disaffected groups in Sumatera, North Sulawesi and West Java in the late 1950s gave them their cue. The ever popular Soekarno declared martial law and gave the army a free hand to crush the rebels.

By 1959, with the rebellions under control, Soekarno resurrected the “revolutionary” constitution of 1945 and declared the beginning of Guided Democracy.

Guided Democracy 1959 to 1965: Under political system, power was focused in the hand of the President and the army leadership, at the expense of political parties, whom Soekarno now regarded as counter revolutionary. Militant nationalism became Soekarno’s new recipe for national integration, and blame for all sorts of economic and political problems was placed squarely at the feet of foreign imperialism and colonialism. In the international arena, Soekarno had, in 1955, made a significant impact by convening the Asia Africa Conference in Bandung. Attended by leaders such as Chou En Lai, nehru and Nassar, the conference led to the information of a non aligned movement and placed Indonesia in the forefront among emergent Third World Nations.

In the early 1960s Soekarno’s anti colonial sentiment took a more militant turn. A long and succesful campaign to wrest control of western New Guinea from the Ducth was followed closely by military confrontation with newly independent AMalaysia in 1963. Soekarno’s audacitu and growing contempt for the United States (“To hell with your aid!” he told the Americans) earned him the reputation of enfant terrible among Asian leaders.

Soekarno’s nationalistic elan was in some ways just what Indonesia needed. many Indonesian saw in him a kind of father figure a natural leader who offered a vision of a strong and independent Indonesia not seen sice the 14th century, during the reign of the powerful empire of Majapahit. Yet Soekarno’s reliance on his charisma, and his lack of attention to-day to-day administration created a vacuum in which the government and the nation floundered. While Soekarno attempted to offset the growing influence of the miliraty identifying himself more closely with the most active of the civilian parties, the communinst PKI, the nation’s  economy ground to a halt. Foreign investment fled, deficits left the government bankrupt and inflantion skyrocketed to an annual rate of 680 percent. By 1965, the year that Soekarno chirstened, “The Year of Living Dangerously,” social, cultural and political ferment was intense.

–> Read Also : Indonesia Since Independence – The 1965 Coup

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