Democratization and the weakening of ethnic politics in Indonesia

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Wednesday 30 June 2010


Coombs Seminar Room B, Coombs Building, Fellows Road, ANU


Edward Aspinall (Department of Political and Social Change, ANU)


Cathy Haberle
+61 2 6125 3794
Democratization produced an image of Indonesia as a country afflicted by contentious and sometimes violent ethnic politics. After the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia went from being a highly centralized polity that repressed ethnonationalist mobilization, to one that was highly decentralized and affected by severe communal and separatist violence in several provinces. Even in parts of the country where ethnic violence did not occur, there were various forms of ethnic political mobilization, for example movements aiming at the creation of new provinces or districts, or aiming at preferential economic treatment for locals. However, it increasingly appears that this new prominence of ethnic politics was a transitional phenomenon. With a new democratic system settling into place, ethnicity is losing political salience. In most of Indonesia, ethnic affiliation matters surprisingly little in everyday politics, and ethnic symbols are either rarely mobilized in the political domain, or are mobilized only weakly. Moreover, where ethnicity does feature, it is frequently used in crudely instrumentalist ways, with participants knowing that distribution of patronage is the glue that holds ethnic politics together. We see relatively little of the deep disputes about ethnohistory, language or cultural policy that feature prominently in more ethnicized polities. This presentation will demonstrate this overall argument by way of proposing nine general theses about the nature of ethnic politics in contemporary Indonesia.

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