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  • Legacies of History, Present Challenges, and the Future
  • Jusuf Wanandi (bio)


Of the many myths and legends in Indonesia, the notion of the "Great Majapahit" has been the most attractive to many Indonesians. Mohamad Yamin, regarded as Sukarno's ideologist, was the main proponent of this legend. He believed that the Majapahit Hindu Kingdom in the fourteenth to sixteenth century was a vast and strong Kingdom, covering the entire archipelago and extended its influence as far as Madagascar in the West and Taiwan in the North.

In reality, however, Indonesia came into being only in the twentieth century, when nationalism began to grow in certain parts of the archipelago, and more specifically since the Youth Oath or Pledge in 1928 that recognized "one country, one nation and one language, namely Bahasa Indonesia", as the national movement was taking shape. In 1945 this modern state was established by the Nationalist Movement. Thus, the Indonesian state and nation were only established some 63 years ago. It is quite a young nation.

The Legacies of Sukarno and Soeharto

The first era of this young nation was led by President Sukarno. This period began after World War II and the four years of the revolution. The economy was in shambles and political development highly unstable. Following the Dutch model, we had many political parties, and in 1947 developed a liberal parliamentary democracy which deviated from the presidential system under the 1945 Constitution. Unstable coalitions came and went during this phase with the government on average lasting only 11 months. [End Page 124]

The general election in 1955, the first of its kind, and an honest one, produced four main parties, but there was no stability. Bung Karno (or Brother Karno, as Sukarno was affectionately called) tried hard to have the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) included in the government but he did not succeed. Some of the regions, especially Sumatra and Sulawesi, rebelled and martial law was proclaimed in early 1958. On top of that the Constituent Assembly failed to formulate a new constitution because of its inability to decide on the ideology of the Republic: Pancasila or Islam. To overcome the stalemate, Bung Karno in 1959, with support of the Army, declared a return to the 1945 Constitution, which provided for a stronger role for the President.

Because of his idea of permanent revolution, Sukarno prepared to take back Papua (Irian Jaya) by force which was accomplished in 1962 through negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands and mediation of the UN. He nationalized the Dutch companies in 1958, resulting in a worsening of the economy that had never recovered from the earlier setbacks. After that, in 1963, he started a confrontation against Malaysia (and Singapore, as part of Malaysia), which he considered to be a creation of a neo-colonial plot by the British. In the meantime the Indonesian Communist Party underwent a transformation because it lined up with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) in 1962. When Sukarno fell seriously ill in early August 1965, the PKI thought they should do something to prevent the Army from taking over the country in the event of Sukarno's death. They instigated a coup that failed. Soeharto, with the support of the middle class, especially students and intellectuals, disbanded the PKI because Bung Karno continued to resist holding the PKI to account for the attempted coup. This was preceded by much political tension and physical clashes between the pro and anti-communist camps since the early 1960s. In the end Bung Karno was demoted by the MPRS (People's Consultative Assembly) and Soeharto became President in 1968.

Sukarno was the founding father of the Republic. He did an extremely important job in keeping the country together and giving self-confidence to the Indonesian people. However, in the end his political and ideological adventures made the country bankrupt. His extreme idea to maintain a permanent revolution and a NASAKOM (Nationalism, Religion, Communism) government consisting of all the major parties, including the PKI, was rejected by the people. Furthermore, his foreign policy of leaning towards China was a diversion from the non-aligned stance that had been scrupulously followed by the Indonesian elite since 1948.

Soeharto was...


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