The Future of Indonesia

Merle Ricklefs seeks clues for the future of the troubled archipelago nation in its distant past.

There is much speculation, and not a little worry, about the future of Indonesia – the giant of Southeast Asia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world, the world’s third-most-populous democracy, a nation which sits astride some highly strategic sea-lanes, and a place sometimes identified in the rhetoric of ‘war against terrorism’ as a potential source of al-Qaeda-linked, or al-Qaeda-type, terrorist movements. The most pressing question seems to be how – or whether – the nation can be held together. It seems that the government of Megawati Sukarnoputri (from July 2001 to the present), and certainly the Indonesian military, believe that the use of force to that end is justified and necessary, at least in the case of Aceh. Some military leaders see the broader American-led ‘war against terrorism’ as an opportunity to re-establish the military as the predominant political force in the nation.

Indonesia consists of the world’s largest archipelago. Running it as a centralised administrative unit would be an immense challenge for any government, let alone one with as many problems as that of President Megawati. So what might the future hold? Will Indonesia fall apart?

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