The economic future of this populous south-east Asian country is increasingly ambivalent.
On the one hand it is becoming regional with its presently limited integration of customs, commerce and finance with the other nine ASEAN countries which, up to 2015, called itself an integrated economic community. On the other, it is pursuing its own developmental objectives, powered also by investment from abroad amounting to 29 billion dollars in 2016, and slightly lower in the first two trimesters of 2017. On the whole, the immense archipelago is in fourth place among developing and transition economies but its exports consist excessively of raw materials rather than finished products.
Indonesia is still affected by international uncertainty, the crisis in the Eurozone and also by USA interest rates and, finally, by disturbances in the People’s Republic of China, the object of many of its main exports. The low rate of exchange between the Indonesian rupee and the dollar facilitates exports without damaging energy imports due also to the drop on world oil prices, but the government of Jakarta is being encouraged by several parties to take advantage of present favourable conditions so as to avoid the danger of serious economic turbulence.
Two further questions have cut across the panorama of the country over the years. The first is the death penalty and the second is the application of Sharia Law. Indonesia has joined the list of Moslem countries with a significant increase in executions. In the case of Indonesia, however, death sentences are not, for the most part, related to terrorist acts – as is the case in Pakistan which carried out hundreds of executions, after a seven-year moratorium, in December 2014 – but mostly for drug-related crimes, something seen by the government as a threat to social stability. At the centre of the electoral campaign of President Joko Widodo, in office since October 2014, there was not only an innovative social policy, the decentralisation and the lay form of state but also a tough fight against the spread of drugs. The resumption of executions in 2015, after a two-year suspension, was clearly conditioned by the social and economic conditions of the great Asian archipelago, rich in population and resources but finding it difficult to achieve equilibrium and drive in an unfavourable global climate.
Intending to gain the broadest consensus possible among the electorate, but also aware of the demands of opposition to a real problem emerging from the electorate, those responsible for the spread of synthetic drugs widely used among the urban middle class, especially its younger members, became a target. Executions also involve foreign citizens. After the shootings of the last two years, Indonesian diplomacy has been placed in danger of reprisals, having been forced to cancel many executions that were planned but not yet carried out. In the final years of his regime before he was deposed in 1998, former president Suharto had played the Islamic fundamentalism card to safeguard a system by which the members of his party and of the army were guaranteed a majority in parliament and all sorts of privileges. This support for the radical fringes of Islam inherited by the new, fragile Indonesian democracy, took a toll between 2000 and 2004 of thousands of victims in the villages and among the plantations once shared between Moslems and Christians in the Moluccas and in Sulawesi. Inevitably, if Islam determines the basic identity of the country, it will also be one of the problematic elements, both within and without. A case in question is that of Aceh, the furthest western point of the island of Sumatra, where Sharia Law has already been imposed. Among the consequences of the new autonomy, the legal recognition of Sharia Law has, up to now, given rise to as much perplexity as enthusiasm. In particular, the methods of the ‘religious police’ who are supposed to enforce its observance are a cause of great annoyance.
However, there are also positive developments that are encouraged by the administration of a president like Joko Widodo who is the first Indonesian head of state unspoiled by compromise with either the military or progressive Islam.
For example, since 20 May, 2015, it is no longer obligatory to declare one’s faith on one’s identity card. That was an imposition that in practice not only encouraged the formation of non-Islam ghettos (24 per cent of the population), but forced some to adopt a clandestine condition, preferring to have no documents rather than risk discrimination.
This provision has ended a debate that has been going on for years and anticipates further initiatives supported by President Joko Widodo during the election campaign of the previous year.
The drafting of the law dealing with the reform of religions has been going on since November, 2014, not without political opportunities both within and without the majority party (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) that supports the president. The law of 1965 provides for six recognised religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Confucianism with the obligation of indicating one’s religion on one’s identity card. Since the year 2000, it has been possible to indicate ‘other’ to allow for the identities of the followers of traditional religions.
As declared by the Internal ministry soon after the inauguration of the present government in autumn 2014, the law has the duty of ‘protecting religions’, not that of defending the lay form of the state or to promote ‘a state founded on religion’. (S.V.)