Aceh political history since the independent

Post-Independence Indonesia

After its independence, Indonesia adopted a new constitution providing for a parliamentary system of government. A failure by the constituent assembly to develop a new constitution further weakened the parliamentary system with an already divided parliament among various political parties. As a result, President Sukarno met little opposition in 1959 when he revived the 1945 constitution providing for broad presidential powers.

From 1959 to 1965, Indonesia was under the authoritarian regime of President Sukarno. During this period, Indonesia's relations with the Asian communist countries were close, and domestically, the Indonesian government was close with the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI. By 1965, many of the mass civic and cultural organizations were controlled by the party. With Sukarno's acquiescence, the PKI began a campaign to establish a "fifth column" by arming its supporters, but it was resisted by army leaders. On Oct. 1, 1965, PKI sympathizers within the military, including elements from Sukarno's palace guard, occupied key locations in Jakarta and kidnapped and murdered six senior generals. Consequently, army troops led by Maj. Gen. Suharto obtained control of the capital.

In the year following the Oct. 1, 1965, revolt, Indonesia was unstable. Violence was rampant, and tens of thousands of alleged communists in rural areas were killed by rightist gangs. As a result of this bloody past, the Communist Party was banned in Indonesia.

During this period, President Sukarno tried, but failed,  to retrieve his job as president and to return the country to a state of law and order. At that time, Maj. Gen. Suharto became head of the armed forces, and he forced President Sukarno, who remained president in name, to hand the key political and military powers to him. In March 1967, the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly put Sukarno under house arrest until his death in 1970 and named the general acting president. In 1968, the People's Consultative Assembly formally selected Suharto to a full five-year term as president. He was re-elected for the next six terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998.

After coming to power, President Suharto reversed many of Sukarno's policies and initiated a "New Order" in the country. With economic rehabilitation as its priority, Indonesia's New Order secured a rescheduling of foreign debts and attracted aid through an intergovernmental group of donor countries. The complex regulations governing economic activities were simplified, and a new foreign investment law in 1967 provided a framework for new private capital investment. In addition to economic development under new economic policies, Indonesia enjoyed political stability during the Suharto administration, which was supported by military power.

The 1990s
In 1993, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the former President Sukarno, became candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party, the opposition group, and later she was elected chairperson of the party. In 1996, in response to her popular support, the Suharto administration acted to remove her from the party chairperson position. This action resulted in nationwide rioting and protesting that was suppressed by the government's security forces.

In mid-1997, economic crisis swept across Asian countries, and Indonesia was also affected by the crisis. Economic hardship and popular resentment to the government's corruption brought Indonesia into turmoil. The country saw student demonstrations as well as public unrest. As a consequence, President Suharto was forced to resign May 21, 1998, when he handed over power to Vice President Habibie.

After taking the reins, President Habibie lost no time assembling a cabinet and implementing a series of political and economic policies. Several prominent political and labor prisoners were released, controls were lifted on the press, political parties and labor unions and economic stabilization became one of the main tasks of government. President Habibie promised to hold new elections, and a special session of the People's Consultative Assembly was held in November 1998, setting the date of parliamentary elections at June 1999.

Elections of 1999

On June 7, 1999, Indonesia held elections for the national, provincial and subprovincial parliaments, with 48 parties participating and competing in the elections.  The elections were deemed to be the first  "mostly free and fair" elections since 1955.  But despite being characterized in this way,  the poll results were not confirmed for nearly two months after the election.

Although the election results were released to the public July 16, 1999, the General Election Commission refused to approve the final vote count. The 53-member commission was composed of one representative from each of the 48 parties that contested the election, plus five government-appointed members. According to the law, two-thirds of the election commission members had to  approve results before they are considered final and official.

As well, twenty-eight representatives, mostly from the smaller parties, refused to endorse the results, asserting that problems with the conduct of the election had not been investigated thoroughly. Critics suggested these representatives were less concerned with the conduct of the election than with the impact of the results on their political futures. Indonesia had a two percent threshold rule: Any party that failed to receive at least two percent of the total vote in an election could not stand in the next election. Thus, the failure to obtain parliamentary seats in 1999 would  result in the dissolution of a number of these smaller parties. Clearly, for many of candidates associated with these smaller groups were keen on extending the process as long as necessary to ensure that they had crossed the two percent threshold.

These repeated delays adversely affected the Indonesian stock market and generated widespread protests and demonstrations against what many Indonesians perceived as an attempt by the ruling Golkar party to "fix" the results. At times, these demonstrations turned violent, involving police and members of the armed forces.

Finally, on Aug. 3, 1999, the election results were confirmed when President Habibie intervened, overruled the election commission, and declared the results valid. The primary opposition party, Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (known by the acronym PDI-P), won 33.7 percent of the vote, and the ruling party, Golkar, gained 22.4 percent of the vote. Next in line, the National Awakening Party garnered 12.6 percent. The United Development Party gained 10.7 percent, and the National Mandate Party 7.1 percent. Four smaller parties received a combined 13.5 percent.

Although parliamentary seats were not immediately apportioned, it was expected that Megawati Sukarnoputri's party, the PDI-P, would receive about 154 seats. Because it was short of a majority, a multiparty coalition government was anticipated. Indeed, in the aftermath of voting for representatives, the country faced a period of intense political wrangling over the formation of a governing coalition and, in addition, over the upcoming presidential election.

Then, on Oct. 20, 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly chose Abdurrahman Wahid of the National Awakening Party as president, and he named a cabinet six days later. By November 1999, Megawati Sukarnoputri from the PDI-P was made vice president, indeed, initiating a coalition government.

Political Developments from 1999-2001

The new government was faced with several rather daunting challenges. The Indonesian economy was still suffering some of the after-effects of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and rampant corruption associated with the "crony capitalism" of the Suharto era. Calls for independence arose from provinces other than East Timor, and violence between ethnic and religious groups was expanding and escalating. The new government also had to decide what to do about former President Suharto's alleged illegal assets.

As for the investigation of Suharto's financial wealth, the Habibie administration's inquiries had produced no evidence of wrongdoing. The findings were met with suspicion and calls for further investigation both in Indonesia and abroad. An inquiry was temporarily suspended July 22, 1999, after Suharto suffered what was being called a minor stroke. Under President Wahid, the new coalition government continued investigating Suharto's money after coming into power.

In March 2000, Muhammad Hasan, former minister of trade and industry in the Suharto administration, was placed under detention by the attorney general's office after being declared a suspect in a Ministry of Forest Fund corruption case. In April 2000, Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman repeated his appeal to the Swiss government to help the Indonesian authorities find former President Suharto's financial wealth, which might be hidden in that country. The former ruler is suspected of abusing his power and authority in issuing decrees and government regulations to amass funds through seven tax-free charity foundations, which he set up and chaired during 32 years in office. Suharto was placed under city arrest for 20 days April 13, 2000, and was prohibited from leaving the country for a year. Then on May 2, Indonesia's attorney general's office extended the city arrest of Suharto by another 20 days to continue its investigation.

Suharto had been questioned twice in April, but both times questioning was cut short after doctors insisted he was too ill to continue. The attorney general's office also confiscated documents relating to the Supersemar Foundation, one of seven charitable foundations chaired by Suharto. In early August, after months of investigation, Suharto was formally charged with corruption for taking $400 million from the charities he controlled. After that, the Indonesian government began confiscating some of his assets, as well as questioning Suharto's children for corruption. However, the trial of the former ruler has been delayed several times following medical reports saying he was too ill to stand trial. Meanwhile, Suharto's youngest son, Tommy Suharto, has been on the run since being declared a fugitive Nov. 3, 2000, after failing to surrender to authorities to serve a jail sentence for corruption.

As for the role of the military in Indonesian politics, there were changes since President Wahid came into office. Under the three-decade rule of former President Suharto, the Indonesian military adopted a dual function, which allowed it to meddle in the affairs of the civilian state while also maintaining national security. A block of seats was reserved for the military in parliament, and officers were given key positions in the cabinet, the bureaucracy and state companies. President Wahid moved to scale down the power of the military after he took office in 1999, and the military also promised to be out of politics and concentrate on the defense of the nation. The number of the seats reserved in parliament for the military and the police was reduced from 100 to 38, and the military will no longer maintain day-to-day law and order but instead leave that to the police.

In August 2000, the People's Consultative Assembly approved a constitutional amendment on the military's presence in parliament until 2009, which surprised and caused anger from human rights organizations in Indonesia because the military had been expected to be phased out in the parliament before the next election in 2004.

In April 2000, President Wahid sacked two key economic ministers from his cabinet. The two ministers were Yusuf kalla, the minister of trade, industry and investment from the former ruling Golkar, and Laksamana Sukardi, the minister of state enterprises from the PDI-P. After this, the parliament demanded an explanation from the president, who at first said he fired the ministers because of lack of cooperation with other members of the economic team. Later he said both were suspected of corruption. Not satisfied with the president's explanation, many members of the People's Consultative Assembly accused the president of breaching promises to be democratically accountable. Eventually, the issue escalated to a political standoff between the president and the parliament.

At the Assembly's annual session held in early August, the president was criticized not only by the members not of his party but also by his supporters - the Muslim political parties. President Wahid made a speech apologizing to the 700-member Assembly for weak leadership over 10 months in office and announcing he would give more power to run the government to the vice president. Under the power-sharing agreement, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, while reporting to the president, would take on the daily running of the government such as setting government priorities, chairing cabinet meetings and monitoring policy implementation. In late August, President Wahid reshuffled his cabinet, reducing it from 35 to 26 members. The shake-up was aimed at addressing complaints that his government had been ineffectual and lacked cooperation, particularly in resolving separatist violence and rebuilding the economy.

On Feb. 1, 2001, the Indonesian parliament passed a censure memorandum implicating President Wahid in two corruption scandals. Based on a special legislative committee's seven-month investigation, the president was alleged to have played a role in the embezzlement of $4 million from the employees' welfare fund of the Bulog, the national food agency. The president also was inconsistent in his explanation of a $2 million gift from the Sultan of Brunei. According to the constitution, President Wahid would have three months to respond to the censure. If legislators were not satisfied with the president's response, the House of Representatives would issue a second and final memorandum. After that, if legislators still not satisfied, the Assembly would start impeachment proceedings.

Since he was censured, President Wahid had been under growing pressure to resign. In mid-March, at least 10,000 Indonesian students demonstrated outside the presidential palace calling for his resignation. But Wahid himself stood firm amid protests. He appeared determined to hang on to his power, saying that if he was forced from power, the country would disintegrate. However, his determination to stay in power proved weak in terms of national integrity because fears of disintegration were widespread and Wahid had shown himself incapable of solving problems.

Charged with corruption, President Wahid denied wrongdoing, and in April, he was censured a second time. Since he had refused to respond to the two censures by parliament, on May 31, the parliament called for a special session of the Assembly to impeach him for corruption and incompetence on August 1. Later, Wahid set July 20 as a deadline to declare a state of emergency if parliament continued impeachment proceedings. In response, the Assembly chief Amien Rais said he would call a snap impeachment hearing if a state of emergency was declared.

On July 22, 2001, President Wahid declared a state of emergency, aimed at dissolving the parliament to prevent the impeachment proceeding and to hold his presidential seat. However, the declaration of the state of emergency was ignored by both the police and the military, and then it was rejected by the Indonesian Supreme Court. Just hours afterward, the Indonesian parliament voted overwhelmingly to dismiss Wahid from office by launching a fast-tracking impeachment proceeding. Within minutes of the vote to force him out, the parliament swore in Megawati Sukarnoputri  as the fifth president of the Republic of Indonesia.

In this way,  Indonesia's first democratically elected president had been impeached by the parliament after less than two years in power. When President Wahid took office, there were high expectations for him to strengthen democracy, end civil unrest and enhance economic recovery. But little had changed in the economy since the outbreak of the crisis. The nation continued to be wracked by separatist and religious violence problems. Many members of the Assembly who elected Wahid as president had turned against him, accusing him of incompetence, lack of consistency, corruption and nepotism.

To the relief of most Indonesians and international society, the transition of power in Indonesia was smooth and without violence. Though still voicing defiance, Wahid finally left the presidential place July 26, 2001 on a trip to the United States for medical treatment.

A New Government
The new president was faced with pressing problems. Megawati Sukarnoputri's first priority was to restore political stability and smooth relations between the executive and the legislature that were strained under Wahid. Economic recovery and national integrity were other key tasks for the new government. President Megawati Sukarnoputri took over a shattered economy burdened with debt repayments larger than Indonesia's gross deomestic product (GDP). As for national integrity, in the past few years since the fall of former President Suharto, from one end of the archipelago to the other, Indonesia has seen increasing violence between ethnic and religious groups as well as a separatist movement. The Megawati Sukarnoputri government also has to decide whether to proceed with corruption charges against former President Suharto, who has so far evaded prosecution for reason of health. His son, Tommy Suharto, who has been named as the key suspect in the killing of a judge, managed to evade capture for some time. All these challenges demanded a strong and united government.

A few days after Megawati Sukarnoputri took office, the Indonesian parliament voted Hamzah Haz as the new vice president. Haz had been the leader of the third-largest party in parliament, the Muslim-based United Development Party. Like former President Wahid, he was identified with Muslim traditionalism. As President Megawati Sukarnoputri's deputy, Haz's election as vice president was seen as a positive power balance between the Muslims and the nationalists represented by the president's party PDI-P. On August 9, President Megawati Sukarnoputri announced her new cabinet. As expected, the president's own party held the largest number of cabinet seats. But other members of the new cabinet included a number of nonparty technocrats, led by the economist Dorodjatun Kuntoro-Jakti, who took on the role of chief economic and finance minister. A number of former military officers were also included in the cabinet.

In late August 2001, Indonesia signed a new deal with the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, which revived a $5 billion loan package. The signing of the new deal with the IMF indicated restoration of Indonesia's relationship with the fund, which was strained under former President Wahid. The deal was expected to boost President Megawati Sukarnoputri's efforts to lead the country out of its economic crisis.

For all of its lack of attention to terrorism (discussed below), the Megawati Sukarnoputri administration made the fight against corruption a top priority. The administration declared the Speaker of the Parliament, Akbar Tanjung, a suspect in a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal in which money for charitable funds from the state food distribution agency, Bulog, was embezzled to finance the Golkar party's 1999 election campaign. Fellow Golkar party members feared that the results of the investigation of Tanjung activities might do irreparable damage to the party's image, so much that the country's second largest political party might be forced to dissolve altogether.

Elections of 2004
By late August 2003, Indonesia's national general election commission announced it would hold its first direct presidential elections in July 2004. Voters would be able to vote directly for a vice-president, officials said. Previously, Indonesian presidents were elected by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which is Indonesia's supreme legislature, but which decided to devolve that power to the people. Analysts were predicting that incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri would be the strongest presidential candidate.

In general elections in the spring of 2004, Indonesia's two biggest political parties appeared to be in a two-way race to the finish.  With only a small portion of the votes counted,  President Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI-P party had garnered 20.5 percent of the votes while the former ruling party Golkar had acquired 19.9 percent.  The outcome for the country's  two smaller parties was thought to show  a movement away from the president's PDI-P party and indicated trends in anticipation of the presidential election to be held in July.

In July, as Indonesia's first direct presidential election took place, votes were in the process of being tallied. Early indications suggested that no single candidate would garner more than 50 percent of the votes cast, thus triggering a run-off election in September between the two candidates with the largest number of votes.

According to opinion polls just prior to the election, former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a security minister in President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government until March, was viewed to be front-runner.  For her part, President Megawati Sukarnoputri was battling to stay in the race with a second place finish.  Having promised reform in 2001 when she came to power, she was now seen as a disappointing leader who had done little to deal with unemployment, corruption or even separatist activities in places such as Aceh.  The president's main rival for a second-place finish was General Wiranto.  The ex-military leader had been supported by the Golkar Party.  He faced some obstacles related to human rights abuse allegations regarding his role in the conflict with East Timor.  Reformer and National Assembly Speaker Amien Rais was on track for a fourth place finish despite analysts' regard for him as being the most effective and thoughtful campaigner.  Vice-President Hamzah Haz was likely to remain in fifth place after all the votes were counted.

Indonesia's Election Commission said the results would be announced within 10 days -- most unlike the officialization process that ensued in the previous elections several years prior.  Meanwhile, a recount was taking place in certain provinces where ballots were punched twice by mistake.  Overall, international observers, including former United States President Jimmy Carter, said the election took place smoothly and without irregularities or violence.  

Following the announcement by the Election Commission of the election results, officials said that Indonesia would hold a second run-off election later. The announcement of the election results had been delayed for several hours as a result of a small explosion caused by a bomb, which resulted in no injuries.

Results from the first round gave former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the plurality of votes but not an absolute majority.  In the run-off election, he was to face incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who beat former army head General Wiranto of the Golkar party.  Although Yudhoyono had  been favored to win the September poll, thus propelling him into the presidency, the race was thought to be competitive, if Megawati Sukarnoputri could consolidate support from Golkar voters.

Official results from the first round of voting were as follows --  Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - 33.5 percent;  Megawati Sukarnoputri - 26.6 percent;  Gen Wiranto - 22.2 percent;  Amien Rais - 14.7 percent; and  Hamzah Haz - 3 percent.

In the runoff vote, incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri was set to lose office, while retired army general Susio Bambang Yudhoyono was on course to win.  Indeed, in October when results were finally tallied,  Yudhoyono won a clear-cut victory.   Yudhoyono had campaigned on the basis of fighting the terrorism threat in Indonesia.

Precise results from the General Election Commission officially announced  that Yudhoyono garnered  69.27 million votes, or 60.62 percent of the total, counted ballots from the Sept. 20 runoff in all 32 provinces, while incumbent president Megawati Sukarnoputri acquired 44. 99 million votes, or 39.38 percent. The new president was to be sworn in by the highest lawmaking body on Oct. 20.  A new cabinet was later formed.

Special Entry: Tsunami disaster in Asia with a focus on Indonesia

A massive earthquake in southeastern Asia in the last days of 2004 gave rise to tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, which has so far left hundreds of thousands of people dead across the region. Estimates suggest that the total death toll has topped 200,000 with 174,000 dead in Indonesia alone. Earlier reports said fewer had died, however, as of early 2005, the death toll steadily increased as thousands remain missing and survivors are at risk, with little water, food or shelter.

The epicenter of the catastrophe was the island of Sumatra in Indonesia,  the worst-affected country with an estimated death toll of over 94,000. Indonesia suffered devastation first from the earthquake and then from tsunami waves.  Aceh appeared to have been worst hit part of Indonesia  with several thousands of people reported as dead or missing.  Other estimates suggested that as many as one in four people in Aceh may be either dead or missing. Relief workers were concentrating their efforts on the recovery of bodies in Aceh in the early days after the disaster hit, in order to prevent the spread of disease. Relief supplies were also being dropped in the area, however, the delivery of aid and  humanitarian relief efforts to this devastated region was marred in some measure by political conflict. In January 2005 alone, the Indonesian military was embroiled in an offensive against separatist rebels, whichl eft over 200 dead.

The United Nations was reported to have sent workers to the area to help with rescue and humanitarian aid efforts.   The European Union, as well as several individual countries, dispensed several millions in aid money for rescue and relief efforts. Japan committed more than $500 million in relief funds making it the largest single donor. The United States  also offered support and increased its offering of aid following an international outcry against its modest initial contribution.

As Indonesia worked to recover from the tsunami, a massive earthquake in Indonesia on March 28, 2005, measuring about 8.2 on the Richter scale, wrought devastation on the island of Sumatra.  The epicenter of the earthquake, off Sumatra's coastline, was also affected by the tsunami of late 2004.  There were concerns that a similar tsunami might be triggered and as such, alerts sounded across the Indian Ocean resulting in mass evacuations.  Although no tsunami occurred, the destruction in Sumatra was significant with thousands feared dead.

In mid-2005, a peace deal provided for post-tsunami reconstruction aid in Aceh.

Recent Political DevelopmentsIn December 2005, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a shuffle within his economic team.  In the shuffle, Aburizal Bakrie was replaced by an experienced technocrat, Budiono, as the Coordinating Minister for the Economy. Aburizal Bakrie was rotated from Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs to Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare.  Meanwhile,  Sri Mulyani was moved from State Minister of National Development Planning to Minister of Finance while Fahmi Idris was shifted from Minister of Manpower and Transmigration to Minister of Industry.  As well, Erman Suparno was named Minister of Manpower and Transmigration while Paskah Suzetta was appointed State Minister of National Development Planning. Those fired from the cabinet included:  Minister of Finance Yusuf Anwar, Minister of Industry Andung Nitimihardjar and Co-ordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab. But Susilo said that Alwi Shihab was to be named as his Advisor and Special Envoy for Cooperation with Middle East countries as well as the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Islamic Development Bank.  As well, Yusuf Anwar was to be named as ambassador to "an important country."

In May 2006, Indonesian prosecutors submitted a letter that effectively closed the criminal case for corruption against former President Suharto.  Attorney-General  Abdul Rahman Saleh said  that the decision not to prosecute Suharto was made on the basis of the former president's failing health.  He said, "The graft case against the defendant, Suharto, has been closed. Based on a health check by his team of doctors, Suharto's health is not good, his condition deteriorates." Meanwhile,   President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made his own announcement saying that he intended to delay action related to the legal status of Suharto.

Accused of embezzling more than $600 million in state funds during his three decades in power, charges were first brought against Suharto several years earlier.  He was able to sidestep trial because of the argument that a number  of strokes had left him mentally incapacitated. Already in his mid-80s, Suharto underwent surgery only days before the aforementioned announcements by the Attorney-General Saleh and President Yudhoyono.

Special Entry: Natural Disasters of 2006

On May 27, 2006, a strong earthquake struck a densely populated area of the Indonesian island of Java.  The earthquake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, affected Java's south coast most acutely but the worst devastation was in the town of Bantul, just south of Indonesia's ancient royal capital city of Yogyakarta.  By May 29, 2006, the death toll surpassed 5,000, with more than 10,000 injured and approximately 200,000 believed to have been displaced. 

For the first few days after the earthquake struck, there was a desperate search for survivors.  As well, local medical facilities were overwhelmed by the influx of thousands of people with grave injuries.  Indeed, in Java, hospitals were so crowded that hundreds of victims had to be treated outside.  Field clinics were being set up to relieve some of the pressure on hospitals, but there were worries that medical supplies could run short before the arrival of aid.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono traveled  to Yogyakarta to lead the rescue efforts, and called on rescue personnel to work around the clock in the hopes of saving as many lives as possible. United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed his sadness over the tragedy and promised that a United Nations disaster response team was standing ready to assist with humanitarian and relief efforts. Javier Solana, the chief diplomat from the European Union (EU), expressed solidarity with the people of Indonesia, saying, "I feel very close to your grief in these difficult moments."    A telegram sent by The Vatican on behalf of Pope Benedict, who was in Poland at the time, conveyed condolences and called on rescue personnel "to persevere in their efforts to bring relief and support."

The Red Cross declared that it was trying to raise $10 million for relief.  For its part, Unicef announced that it was sending emergency supplies including tents, tarpaulins and hygiene kits to the areas in Indonesia hardest hit. The World Food Programme said that it was sending both a rapid assessment team and humanitarian aid to the area.

Among the international community, aid efforts were ramping up to respond to Indonesia's earthquake crisis.  The United Kingdom (U.K.) led the way by pledging $5.5 million.  Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary for the U.K., announced that the funds would come from the unspent money slated originally for aid following the Asian tsunami in late 2004.   The EU's Development Commissioner Louis Michel  said that it would release $3 million at once to ensure that there would be "immediate funding available for essential relief activities." As well, officials from British Embassy and the Swiss Foreign Ministry  in Jakarta were traveling Yogyakarta to assess the devastation.  Canada, China, Australia and the United States each pledged $2 million.  Several other countries, such as Italy, pledged medical services and supplies as well as emergency and aid provisions.  Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and South Korea were sending rescue teams, paramedics and doctors.  Turkey, whose emergency response team has been stationed in Indonesia since the tsunami of 2004, promised its services.

The proximity of the epicenter of the earthquake to the ancient city of Yogyakarta caused great concern.  There were reports that one of Indonesia's most significant ancient temple grounds was damaged as a result of the earthquake.  The temple complex, which was more than 1,000 years old, had been classified by the United Nations as a world heritage site. Early assessments suggested that stone walls and statues had collapsed at the site of the Hindu Prambanan temple.

In July 2006, another earthquake -- this time just off the  island of Java -- triggered a tsunami, which killed hundreds of people.  The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.2 and was centered on the town of Pangandaran.  Coming only a few years after the devastating tsunami of late 2004 that resulted in mass destruction and hundreds of thousands of lives in countries across the Indian Ocean, there was some criticism about this latest occurence.  Specifically, critics wondered about why an efficient tsunami warning system had not been developed.

Early 2007 saw no reprieve from natural disasters with floods in the capital city of Jakarta resulting in the deaths of scores of people and homelessness for thousands of others.

In Focus: The Threat of Radical IslamThe events of September 11, 2001 triggered a wave of anti-American feelings among Indonesian militant Muslims. Protests were staged outside  the United States (U.S.) embassies and leaders of hard-line Islamic groups threatened to sweep the country of American nationals and attack the American embassy should the U.S. attack Afghanistan. Some even threatened to retaliate with a jihad on the U.S. in case of a U.S. military strike. While the threats and protests never amounted to anything violent, the new government was placed in a precarious position where it had to appease the Islamic constituents in its own country and maintain its diplomatic ties with the U.S.

Indonesia's radical Islamic groups and connections to international terrorism placed the country in the international spotlight. In early 2002, Indonesia received severe criticism from Singapore for not doing enough to apprehend those connected to terrorist cells. Indonesian authorities had argued that the possibility of terrorists taking refuge in their country was slim but in December 2001, Indonesia admitted there was evidence of al-Qaida activities on Sulawesi island. Other islands where fighting between Christian and Muslim factions occur have been seen as a training ground for al Qaida fighters.

Meanwhile, Islamic militants on South Sulawesi and in Java were demanding the implementation of Shari'a law on the respective islands. This movement threatened the peaceful cohabitation of the Indonesian people in that region.
Indonesia's lush tropical paradise of Bali was the site of a series of horrific terrorist attacks by Islamic militants in October 2002. Approximately 188 people were killed. Most of the victims were Australians, however, Europeans, New Zealanders, Singaporeans and Americans were killed in a blast at a popular nightspot. Like many recent acts of terrorism since September 11, 2001, al-Qaida -- Osama bin Laden's terrorist enclave -- was blamed, however, no group officially claimed responsibility at the time. A group called Jemmah Islamiah, which was allegedly linked to al-Qaida, was eventually identified possibly being responsible. Jemmah Islamiah was founded by two Indonesian clerics; the group's objective is to establish a pan-Islamic state across South Asia.

Indonesia then came under fire from its surrounding South Asian neighbors for failing to do enough to deal with radical Islamist elements within its borders.

In the wake of the Bali bombings, Indonesia's two largest Islamic organizations agreed to support a new anti-terrorism decree giving security forces much needed power to fight terrorists. The laws provide for detention without trial, as well as the death penalty, for those convicted of terrorism. Indonesia hoped to make up for its poor record of dealing with terrorism with these sorts of strict measures.
In August 2003, another terrorist attack -- this time at a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta -- left ten people dead and several injured. The attack was believed to have been carried out by the militant Islamic group Jemmah Islamiah. As noted above, the group was believed to have carried out bombings in Bali. The apparent similarities between the Jakarta attack and the Bali bombing -- detonation by mobile phone and the chemical mixture of the explosives -- seemed to lend credence to the view that both attacks were carried out by the same group.

Although not conclusively confirmed, the Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil asserted that the group was also linked with the terrorist group, al-Qaida. He observed that the members of Jemma Islamiah may have trained with al-Qaida members in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The foreign ministry of Pakistan called for greater information sharing on such matters and did not deny that terrorist training may have taken place on Pakistani soil. The foreign ministry of Afghanistan said that it was hardly surprising that such terrorists may have been trained in that country during the time of Taliban rule.

In a related development, Imam Samudra, who was accused of orchestrating the Bali attacks, thanked prosecutors for demanding his death sentence.

A year later, in September 2004, a string of terrorist attacks hit Indonesia.  In one case,  a huge explosion blasted the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.   The motive for targeting Australia was believed to be either its support of the war in Iraq, or its role in East Timor’s liberation from Indonesia.  The terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which (as noted above) has been linked to the notorious al-Qaida terrorist network, claimed responsibility for the attack which left nine people dead and 180 injured.

In May 2005, a bombing at a market in the town on Tentena, within the Poso region on the island of Sulawesi, left 22 people dead and 40 injured. In the aftermath of the attack, security was intensified across Sulawesi with police establishing roadblocks for the purpose of hunting down the bombers. The Poso region has been the site of sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims since  1998.  A peace deal was signed in 2001, however, sporadic violence has continued since that time nonetheless.  The Indonesian government has released statements suggesting that it believes the attack was carried out by terrorists and was intended to spark further sectarian violence.

On October 1, 2005, three successive suicide bombings left around 20 people dead and more than 100 wounded in resort areas of Kuta and Jimbaran in Bali.  Most of casualties were Indonesians, however, Australians, Japanese, South Koreans and Americans were also said to be among those killed and injured. The attacks came three years after bombings at Bali nightclubs killed over 200 people. Indonesian investigators said that the attacks appeared to be the work of the regional Islamic terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which was also responsible for the aforementioned 2002 attacks in Bali.

The police chief, Made Mangku Pastika said that there were  traces of explosive materials attached to the bodies of suspects, thus indicating that suicide bombers had carried out the attacks. The identity of one possible suspect captured attention when video footage taken by tourists in one of the bombed restaurants showed a man dressed in black shirt and jeans  with something on his back. His visage disappeared from the footage just prior to the bright flash of the exploding bomb.  The footage on the screen that followed depicted black smoke, but the screams of people could also be heard in the background.  It was hoped that the film footage would help in identifying the suspected suicide bombers.  To this end, Indonesian police also released pictures of three decapitated heads, presumably of the suicide bombers, in the hopes the
jarring imagery would also motivate people to step forward with information.

Meanwhile, two key leaders in Jemaah Islamiah -- Malaysian fugitives Azahari Bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top-- were named as the possible masterminds behind the attacks. Both individuals have been on Indonesia’s most wanted list and have been linked with previous attacks.  One of the two individuals was believed to be a bomb maker while the other was thought to be in charge of militant recruitment.

In June 2006, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir -- a Muslim cleric convicted over the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali -- was released from prison.  Abu Bakar Ba'asyir had been found guilty in March 2005 of conspiracy regarding the bomb plot, however, more serious charges were either dropped or overturned.  Security and terrorism experts have alleged that the cleric was a founding member of the extremist Islamic group,  Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which has been blamed for several terrorist attacks in southeast Asia in recent years. For his part, the cleric has claimed that some of the terrorist attacks, including a second bombing in Bali in 2005, ensued while he was in prison. He has also charged that he was  a victim of a plot to undermine Islam. 

For his part, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed to strengthen his government's resolve to fight terrorism.

In July 2007,  Zarkasih, the leader of the extremist Islamic group, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), to which several acts of terrorism have been attributed, was captured by police.  In addition, Abu Dujana, the head of JI's military wing, was also taken into custody.  The capture of these two key figures marked a significant victory for the Indonesian authorities in their efforts against the violent threat of militant Islam.

Recent Developments
The start of 2008 saw  former Indonesian President Suharto critically ill and in the throes of organ failure, as doctors frantically working to save his life.  By late January 2008, those efforts were unsuccessful and Suharto passed away.  Regarded as a strongman who ruled the country for three decades,  Suharto was credited with leading a thriving economy and increasing the standard of living in the 1970s and 1980s.  But he was also condemned for a corrupt regime, and blamed for massive human rights abuses under his tenure.  Indeed, thousands of people died in Papua, Aceh and East Timor due to his repressive policies.  Discontent primarily due to the Asian financial crisis forced him to resign from office in 1998, but he never stood trial for either humanitarian crimes or corruption due to his deteriorating health.   A state funeral was scheduled for January 28, 2008.

Special Entry:  Elections of  2009

Background --

Parliamentary elections in Indonesia were scheduled to take place on April 9, 2009. The first round of the presidential election was scheduled for July 8, 2009, with a run off, if needed, to be held on September 8, 2009. The parliamentary vote would be the third one since the democratic reforms in 1998 in the world's largest archipelago. The presidential vote will be distinguished as the second democratic presidential election for Indonesia and would mark the country's process of democratization. A peaceful transfer of power would be a clear sign that the country has moved in the direction of democracy.

At the presidential level, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono  indicated his desire to be re-elected. But he would have to compete with former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and others to keep his job. Other candidates included some former generals and a Javanese Sultan of Hamengkubuwono.

In March 2009, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced he would pick another running mate in the presidential election, given the fact that Vice President Jusuf Kalla decided to contest the presidential poll himself. The president said, "Six months ago I said it was very possible Kalla and I would remain a pair [in the upcoming presidential elections]. There was about a 70 percent possibility of that." He continued, "But look at the recent political dynamics. Golkar wants to support its own presidential candidate, and Kalla has declared himself as that candidate. I would have been very embarrassed had I said I would surely pair up with him again." The president said he would seek a running mate who had "good integrity" and "good capacity," and a person with whom he would share "good chemistry."

Before the presidential race, however, Indonesians would vote for the parliament.

Primer on Parliamentary Elections --

Indonesians went to the polls in the parliamentary elections on April 9, 2009.  Between 38 political parties and six local parties in Aceh province were expected to contest in the parliamentary elections. At stake were the seats in the House of Representatives (DPR).

The parties that are authorized to take part in the elections can be divided into three groups. First, there are the nationalist parties like the Golkar Party headed by Vice President Yusuf Kalla, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle Party led by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and the Democratic Party led by president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Secondly, there are the religious parties dominated by the Islamists, Thirdly, there are parties adhering to social democracy ideology. Traditionally, nationalist parties have dominated Indonesian politics since the country won independence in 1945 and they are expected to perform accordingly at the 2009 polls.

According to the electoral law, only the parties that get 25 percent votes or 20 percent seats in the House of Representatives (DPR) can nominate their candidates for presidency in the July presidential election. As such, the results of the parliamentary election would determine the fate of the forthcoming presidential election to some degree. With these high stakes at hand, there was a climate of competitiveness and tension across the political landscape. Ahead of the parliamentary polls, political parties gathered in the capital of Jakarta vowing to conduct a peaceful campaign, amidst rising concerns that violent clashes could break out among the supporters of the political parties. In order to shore up security, the national police dispatched two-third of its strength while the country's armed forces also deployed 24,000 of its troops.

Polling data ahead of the parliamentary election suggested that the Democratic Party would gain the plurality of seats. Analysts have suggested that many Indonesians approve of the president's handling of the economy and may thusly reward his Democratic Party. On the other hand, both Kalla's  Golkar Party and Megawati Sukornoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle Party were plagued by internal rifts. That said, no single party was expected to gain absolute predominance, thusly paving the way for bargaining and the establishment of alliances.

Early election results suggested that the president’s Democratic Party was in the lead with 20.48 percent of the votes. There was a second place race between the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle with 14.33 percent and third place Golkar Party with 13.95 percent votes. These results were preliminary and yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile, political negotiations between the Democratic Party and other parties were expected to begin, with coalition formation in the offing.

Final results gave  20.9 percent and 148 seats  to the president's Democratic Party , 14.5 percent and 108 seats  to Kalla's Golkar, and 7.9 percent and 93 seats to  Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle Party.

Note: Key election issues included the economy, employment, and corruption.

Primer on Indonesian election --
Indonesia's presidential election was scheduled to take place on July 8,2009.  It would be only the second direct presidential election since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in the Indonesian archipelago composed of  17,000 islands and spanning three time zones.  Indonesia, which is home to the world's largest Muslim-majority country and is the world's third-largest democracy after India and the United States, has become a model of democratic stability in a region plagued by sectarian violence.  Indonesia has also enjoyed strong economic performance in recent years.  Indeed, Indonesia today is a marked study in contrasts when compared to the political and economic strife that ruled the 1990s.

The main presidential contenders in  the 2009 presidential contest were as follows --

   Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
   Born: Pacitan, East Java, Sept. 9, 1949
   Religion: Islam Education: Indonesia Armed Forces Academy, 1973
   Career Highlights:
   Chief of Sriwijaya Military
   Command, 1996-97 Chief of Staff for Social and Political Affairs
   Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, 1999 Coordinating
   Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, 2000-01
   President of Indonesia, 2004-present

   Megawati Sukarnoputri
   Born: Yogyakarta, Jan. 23, 1947
   Religion: Islam
   Education: School of Agriculture, Padjadjaran University, 1965-67
   School of Psychology, University of Indonesia, 1970-72
   Career Highlights:
   House of Representatives member, 1987-92, 1992-97, 1999-2004
   Vice President, 1999-2001
   President, 2001-04
   PDI-P Chairwoman 1999-present

   Jusuf Kalla
   Born: Watampone, South Sulawesi, May 15,1942
   Religion: Islam
   Education: Economic faculty, University of Hasanuddin, Makassar,1967
   The European Institute of Business Administration Fountainebleu,France, 1977
   Career Highlights:
   President director of N.V. Hadji Kalla, 1969-2001
   President director of PT Bumi Karsa, 1988-2001
   Minister of Industry and Trade, 1999-2000
   Commissioner of PT Bukaka Singtel International, 2000-present
   Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, 2001-2004
   Vice president of Indonesia, 2004-present

Leading up to the election, the incumbent president had campaigned on a pledge to clean up corruption and increase economic development.   Despite his background as a Suharto loyalist, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been viewed as the most popular Indonesian leader in the democratic era thanks to success is these two arenas. Indeed, his centrist Democratic Party enjoyed an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections heled months earlier, which set the stage for the presidential contest.

On election day -- July 8, 2009 -- there were no reports of deadly violence or widespread irregularities. Exit polls indicated that incumbent Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held an overwhelming lead.  A MetroTV exit poll the president 58.51 percent of the vote, while opposition leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, had  26.32 percent, and outgoing Vice President Jusuf Kalla had 15.18 percent. Another exit poll by TV One gave Yudhoyono 60.10 percent, while Megawati had 27.33 percent, and Kalla carried 12.58 percent.  In this way, the exit polls both seemed to be roughly in the same vicinities of support. While final official results would not be available for some time, it was apparent that the president would  avoid a second-round run-off election.

Speaking from his home in Bogor, south of Jakarta, after the polling stations closed across the country, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said: "The vote count hasn't finished yet ... but the poll surveys in their quick counts show the success of my comrades."  For their parts, Megawati and Kalla said that there were incomplete voting lists and missing polling booths.  The president called on his rivals to settle these complaints fairly saying, "Let's work together to maintain a peaceful situation in this country. If there are objections or protests, please do it through mechanisms and procedures in line with our law."

The exit polls gave way to real election results that made the incumbent president's victory a likely reality. The country's Electoral Commission said  Yudhoyono won 61.88 percent of the vote, with Megawati carrying 28.57 percent, and Kalla trailing behind with 9.77 percent.  In this way,  Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was set to become the first Indonesian president to serve consecutive terms.

Opposition leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was in no mood to concede and instead alleged fraud. Nevertheless, two days after the election, re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that he was open to the idea of including officials from  rival parties in his new administration.

Special Report: 2009 Jakarta bombings --

On July 17, 2009, suspected suicide bombers attacked two luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, leaving nine people dead and more than 50 others injured. At least three Australians, one Singaporean and one national of New Zealand, were also believed to be among the dead. The casualty list of those wounded in the attacks included several Indonesians, as well as nationals from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway,  Italy, India, South Korea, and Hong Kong.  One explosion took place at the Ritz-Carlton while the other attack ensued at the J.W. Marriott. Both hotels are located at the heart of Jakarta's commercial center.

Indonesian authorities said that one of the suicide bombers had checked in as a guest at the Marriott.  Room 1808, where that unidentified guest was registered, appeared to have been used as something of a "central command" in which the bombs were made. Indeed, one unexploded bomb as well as explosive materials were found inside that particular hotel room.  Once formulated, Indonesian police said that the bombs were placed in a restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton and the basement of the parking garage at the Marriott respectively.  Evidence at the two sites suggested that the bombs contained  nails, ball bearings and bolts.

The explosions bore the hallmark of the militant extremist group, Jemaah Islamiah, which has been responsible for a number of terror attacks in Indonesia over the years, including the infamous Bali nightclub bombings of 2002 and an earlier attack on the Marriott in 2003.  Anti-terrorism measures in recent times appeared to have blunted the group's efforts, with the last major attacks taking place in the 2004-2005 timeframe outside the Australian embassy and in Bali respectively.  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was himself re-elected only weeks earlier,  has been credited for being behind a successful anti-terrorism campaign against militant extremists Islamists in the world's largest Muslim country. Indeed, the government has championed anti-terrorism training, new legislation and cooperation in the international sphere, with an eye on keeping the country safe and peaceful.

For his part, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the two sites of the attacks and vociferously  condemned the actions of the terrorist as "cruel and inhuman." The president said that it appeared that the attacks were carried out by suspected Islamic terrorists, but stopped short of identifying Jemaah Islamiah as being responsible.  Nevertheless, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice, saying: "Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law."

In the aftermath of the attacks, security has been increased across the country, and 500 military troops have been placed on standby, should the need to provide support to the police arise.

At the international level, New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key decried the apparent act of terrorism. His Australian counterpart,  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, joined in the condemnation and characterized the attacks as "barbaric." Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was set to travel to Jakarta to show solidarity with Indonesia.  Smith said that he wanted to stand "shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time."  United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the attacks as "senseless" but warned that they made clear that the threat of terrorism remained "very real."  United States President Barack Obama, who spent some of his own childhood years in Indonesia, said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred... in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Days later, Indonesian officials said that there were "strong indications" that a known fugitive, Noordin Mohamed Top, was behind the fatal  attacks at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott in Jakarta.  Born in Malaysia, Noordin Mohamed Top relocated to Indonesia in 2001.  An ally of the Islamic terror group, al-Qaida, he was a leading financier of the aforementioned terror group, Jemaah Islamiah.  Following an internal dispute over strategy, however, he founded his own splinter organization. Noordin Mohamed Top  was believed to have orchestrated the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005, as well as a host of other terror attacks in Indonesia.  While his accomplice, Azahari Husin, was killed by police in 2005,  Noordin Mohamed Top managed to evade capture during a police aid in 2006.  To date, he has been known as one of the most infamous fugitives and "most wanted man" in the region.

In August 2009, there were hopes that a man killed during a siege of a farmhouse in Central Java might be the infamous Noordin Mohammed Top.  However, Indonesian authorities said that DNA testing showed that the body was that of  a florist who had worked at both of the two hotels -- the Ritz-Carlton and  J.W. Marriott -- that were targeted in the July 2009 attacks in Jakarta.   The florist was believed to have been involved in the planning of the attacks along with Noordin Mohamed Top, and pointed to videotaped footage showing him with the alleged bomber at the Marriott days before the attack, and also carrying bomb-making materials through the staff entrance of the hotel.   The siege that killed the florist occurred when the Indonesian authorities foiled  an apparent plot to bomb the home of  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In September 2009, Indonesian authorities declared that DNA tests proved conclusively that Indonesia's most-wanted Islamist terrorist, Noordin Mohamed Top, was  dead.   Noordin Top was reportedly among the four terrorists who died in a raid on September 17, 2009 in central Java. At a news conference days after the raid, a national police spokesman, Nanan Soekarna, said: "There is no doubt that he's Noordin M. Top."  Regional leaders hailed the news of his death, which they said would help dampen the influence of militant and extremist Islamic groups in the region.

Special Entry: Earthquake hits SumatraOn September 30, 2009, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale hit the southern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The epicenter was 28 miles west-northwest of Padang. More than 1,000 people were thought to have died as a result, while almost 3,000 were said to be trapped under the rubble.

Days after the earthquake struck, the news from the rescue workers on the ground in Sumatra was grim and the prospect of finding survivors was slim.  While rescue workers focused on a hotel where a seminar was taking place and where sophisticated equipment had picked up sounds of life, the tropical heat was also taking a toll and the stench of decomposing bodies dominated the air.  The rescue of a young woman at a school was welcomed, but the reality was not encouraging at the wider level. Outside of Padang, the Red Cross warned the situation was even more grave.  In Pariaman, the Associated Press reported that there were  no buildings left standing and had there was little external help in those rescue efforts.

Indonesian Health Minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, has called on the international community for assistance.  To that end, United States President Barack Obama, who spent some of his childhood in Indonesia, was reported to have offered condolences to the Indonesian President Susilo  Bambang Yudhoyono and offered relief assistance.  As well, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that his country was deploying an aircraft carrying engineering, rescue and health teams to Indonesia.  Meanwhile, many countries within the international community were pledging aid, emergency funds, volunteers as well as specialized rescue teams and sophisticated engineering equipment.

Indonesia is located within a zone of intense seismic activity known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire," which means that regularly experienced earthquakes.  At issue is Indonesia's specific  location along the active geological fault line where the Indo-Australian Plate is  subducted beneath the Eurasian plate. The Indonesian island of Sumatra is particularly vulnerable to intense seismic activity due to a large strike-slip fault, known as the Great Sumatran Fault, which runs the entire length of the island. Accordingly, experts have warned that Sumatra is especially at risk for catastrophe as a result of this geological situation.

Editor's Note:

The Indonesian archipelago is composed of  17,000 islands and spans three time zones.  Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim-majority with a total population of more than 230 million and is the world's third-largest democracy after India and the United States. It has become a model of democratic stability in a region plagued by sectarian violence.  Indonesia has also enjoyed strong economic performance in recent years.  Indeed, Indonesia today is a marked study in contrasts when compared to the political and economic strife that ruled the 1990s until the fall of the Suharto dictatorship.  While attacks by Islamic militants and extremists have been an enduring challenge since 2002, Indonesia has been lauded for its concerted efforts in directly confronting the threat of terrorism.

Other than terrorism (discussed above), in recent years, the single most significant priority for the government was the unification and preservation of the integrity of the country. In the past years, the country has seen division between the political center and many of the provinces. Among them, the provinces of Aceh  and Papua continued to show discontent and open rebellion against the central government in Jakarta.  A peace deal was, however, forged with separatists in Aceh in recent years.  These issues surrounding the integrity of Indonesia are discussed in the regional appendices of this Country Review.

Finally, as discussed above,  Indonesia is located within a zone of intense seismic activity known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire." Indonesia is regularly subjected to earthquakes due to its location along the active geological fault line where the Indo-Australian Plate is  subducted beneath the Eurasian plate.

Indonesia Foils Terror Plot:On May 14, 2010, Indonesian authorities announced that they uncovered a terror plot to assassinate the president and attack foreigners in that country. Along with the announcement of the foiled terror plot, Indonesian authorities said that they had arrested three suspected Islamist militants during a series of anti-terror raids.  The three militants were associated with a terror training camp in the separatist enclave of Aceh months earlier in February 2010.  They were among dozens of militant Islamists who have been arrested or killed in recent times.

Indonesian authorities said that the extremists Islamists behind the plot aimed to carry off a Mumbai-style attack during an Independence Day ceremony on August, 17, 2010.  Included in the plan was the objective of taking control of hotels and killing foreigners there.  Ultimately, the terrorists hoped to declare Indonesia as an Islamic state.

National Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri explained the plot as follows: "They planned to attack and murder state officials at the 17 August celebrations. There, they saw all of the state officials as assassination targets, including the state guests attending the ceremony."  He continued, "Their plan was also to launch attacks in Jakarta against foreigners - especially Americans - and attack and control hotels within certain communities, imitating what happened in Mumbai."  The police chief concluded by noting that the terrorists believed that these actions would facilitate the creation of an Islamist state in Indonesia,  ruled by Shariah law.

These events were illustrative of two key security concerns in Indonesia.  First, and most ostensible, was the realization that despite anti-terrorism efforts, extremist Islam in Indonesia continued to be a threat to national security.  Second, the discovery of the terror training camp in Aceh camp evoked anxieties about terror networks re-emerging in Indonesia, and specifically in areas already plagued by political and economic challenges.

UpdateIn March 2011, Indonesia's coalition government was at risk of collapse due to disagreement over a vote to investigate a taxation scandal. A session in the Indonesian House of Representatives turned particularly acrimonious when most members of the legislative body voted against forming a committee of inquiry to investigate Indonesia's graft-ridden taxation system. The vote outcome was regarded as a victory for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, which was against the inquiry, and claimed that its two coalition partners backing the inquiry -- the Golkar Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) -- were attempting to undermine the government. All indications at the time were that the Golkar Party intended to exit the coalition over the disagreement. That being said, by the second week of March 2011, the ruling coalition of Indonesia remained in tact when the second largest Golkar Party opted to remain in the government. Golkar Party chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, said in a news conference after a meeting with President Yudhoyono, "Golkar keeps staying in coalition." Clearly, the Golkar Party was able to reach an agreement with President Yudhoyono and his Democratic Party. For his part, on March 10, 2011, Indonesian President Yudhoyono said he had no plan to reshuffle the cabinet in the near future.

In April 2011, an apparent attempted terror attack was thwarted in Indonesia when police found a 330 pound bomb buried under a church on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.  The proximity to the church suggested that Islamic militants may have been planning an attack to coincide with Easter celebrations in this moderate Islamic country.  Accordingly, foreign nationals were being warned to be careful as regards their activities in Indonesia. Militant Islamists in Indonesia have been responsible for a series of terror attacks in that country, particularly targeting foreign nationals, but also focused on moderate Muslims and minority Muslim sects.  That being said,  Indonesian authorities arrested a number of suspects in connection with the planned attack,  including six people who were also accused of being behind a set of mail bombs dispatched in March 2011  to moderate Muslim activists as well as the former head of the  country's anti-terrorism unit.

On Sept. 25, 2011, a suicide bomber targeted the the  Bethel Injil Sepuluh church in the Indonesian town of Solo in Central Java in Indonesia.  At least two people  died as  the suicide bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body after a worship service at the church, just as congregants exited the house of worship.  More than 20 others were wounded.  Although Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, the country is officially secular, and the government has actively sought to curtail the activities of militant extremist terrorists, who have been responsible for several attacks over the years.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reportedly expressed his condolences for the deaths and injuries that ensued as a result of the terror attack.  While there was no immediate information about who was behind the attack, the site of the suicide bombing gave some clues as to the motivation and possible culprits.  Solo has been known as the home base of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir -- the spiritual leader of the Islamist extremist militant group, Jemaah Islamiah (JI).   Ba'asyir was jailed for 15 years months earlier in June 2011 for supporting  militant training camps.

The terror group, JI,   represents a significant threat to Indonesia. An al-Qaida affiliate, JI’s stated goal is to create an Islamic state that spans Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand. Among other atrocities, it is allegedly responsible for the bombing of a popular nightspot in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 12, 2002, which claimed the lives of over 200 individuals, as well as the Aug. 5, 2003, bombing of the J.W. Marriot in Jakarta that killed 12.

Note that at the start of October 2011, Indonesian police announced the arrest of  a terror suspect, Ben Asri,  in connection with the suicide bomb attack at the church in Solo.  Asri was linked not only with that attack, but also with  a suicide bombing at a mosque on a police compound in West Java months earlier in April 2011.

In April 2012, the future of the Islamist  Prosperous and Justice Party within Indonesia's ruling coalition government was yet to be determined.  At issue was the PKS' rejection of the government's plan to increase oil prices. That price hike was intended to ease the risks of soaring global oil prices in a country that  already provides significant oil subsidies; it was also intended to accrue funds needed to pay for necessary infrastructure projects, such as the construction of   roads, bridge, railways, seaports, and airports .  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was reported to be in talks with other coalition partners -- excluding the PKS -- ahead of a decision about the composition of the government.

Editor's Note:

In the aftermath of the last elections held in 2010, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party won the most seats.  A broad coalition government was formed in the aftermath of those parliamentary polls that included the president's own Democratic Party, the second largest party in parliament, the Golkar Party, the Nation Awakening Party, the National Mandate Party, as well as the Islamist the Prosperous and Justice Party.

-- April 2012

Written by Dr. Denise Youngblood Coleman,Editor in Chief, CountryWatch.com .  Research sources listed in the Bibliography.

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