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  • Democracy Take-Off: The B. J. Habibie Period ed. by Dewi Fortuna Anwar and Bridget Welsh
  • Adiwan Fahlan Aritenang (bio)
Dewi Fortuna Anwar and Bridget Welsh, eds. Democracy Take-Off: The B. J. Habibie Period. Jakarta: Sinar Harapan, 2013. 594 pp.

The fall of Suharto and the New Order regime led to a shift in Indonesia’s socio-political and economic arrangements. The immediate years of transition were a critical and crucial period that shaped the future of Indonesian development under B. J. Habibie’s presidency, which lasted for less than a year and a half (May 1998–October 1999). This book, which documents Habibie’s presidency through a variety of experts’ writings, is divided into three parts: the man himself, his domestic political achievements, and the world’s perspective.

The first chapter provides an interesting analysis of Habibie’s background and thinking. This essay argues that Indonesia was lucky to have Habibie—a trained engineer with scientific and managerial capacity—manage the country in transition because he lacked political ambition. Habibie helped Indonesia start the post-authoritarian period with an intellectual outlook that reengineered and reformed the country’s politics and economy. The second chapter describes Habibie’s leadership style: his relaxation process, approximation approach, and redundancy strategy. The paper highlights Habibie’s’ personal and mutual-dependence relationship with the military, and his goals for Indonesia’s democracy, such as introducing a free press, protecting human rights, and establishing an independent judiciary. In his chapter, Marcus Mietzner provides an interesting report about the political and economic underpinnings of regime change in Indonesia. The paper suggests that Habibie’s weak legitimation was due to his involvement with the New Order regime (109). In particular, his reelection attempt failed due to a fund-raising scandal involving his aides. Yet he played a decisive role in forming Indonesia’s post-authoritarian system. Overall, the book’s first section argues that Habibie, a reformist, was good for Indonesia’s new system. His focus was on an outward-looking policy that embraced freedom of speech and political and economic reforms.

The second part of the book provides a complete picture of Habibie’s domestic policy and his approach to an unstable Indonesia. The first chapter examines the history of Indonesian politics and why that legacy was a burden during Habibie’s presidency. The paper shows how serious the Habibie administration was to reform the country and describes the important decision to dissolve the body that managed the indoctrination program, Badan Pembinaan Pendidikan Pelaksanaan Pedoman Penghayatan dan Pengamalan Pancasila (BP7, Board for Developing Education and the Implementation of Guidelines for Instilling and Applying Pancasila) and strengthen the civil society as actors to balance and oppose the state. In addition, this chapter shows how Habibie could be mistaken for a follower of Hatta, as they both support civil society and a state that is close to the people. The author rejects that idea, however, as Habibie never read the first vice president’s work. The next important issue was the struggle to promote press freedom. The minister of information, Yunus [End Page 117] Yofiah, supported press freedom and proposed the press bill. He even allowed journalists to testify before the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) to encourage passage of the bill. Overall, the paper argues that no president before or after Habibie did more to secure freedom of the press in Indonesia (218). Similarly, popular culture was also given new freedom of expression, as popular culture reflects the relative influence of political, economic, and social movements. In particular, live performances and television programs that continuously displayed the spirit of reform acted to desacralize the state and, to some extent, helped to balance the state–society relationship. The radical change in the media and politics through popular culture allows both religious and economic value of commodified goods that represent Islam (241).

About the sensitive issue of the labor movement, Timothy Ryan wrote two important arguments. First, Habibie’s administration introduced three labor-related laws to shape the labor movement in Indonesia for the coming years (p. 265). Second, the international labor network learned the importance of being on the ground to change workers...