April 14, 2009: Dr. Azyumardi Azra, Mr. Umar Hadi, and Dr. Rizal Sukma

(Click to Enlarge) From right to left: Dr. Azyumardi Azra, Dr. Rizal Sukma, and Mr. Umar Hadi describe democracy in Indonesia.

Democracy, Diplomacy, and Transformation in Indonesia



(Washington D.C.) April 14– Indonesia’s recent elections marked the third democratic transfer of power in the Southeast Asia nation and its continued democratic consolidation. In an East-West Center Democracy & Human Rights Seminar, Dr. Azyumardi Azra, professor at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta; Mr. Umar Hadi, director for Public Diplomacy in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia; and Dr. Rizal Sukma, executive director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, described the most recent elections, the effect that democratic change has had on Indonesia’s foreign policies, and the efforts of Indonesia to promote democratization in Asia.


Indonesia’s recent elections, though experiencing some difficulties, were largely successful and peaceful. There was a large voter turnout despite predictions of increased abstentions for political or ideological reasons. Dr. Azra noted that the largest group of non-voters were those who were unable to vote due to technical difficulties associated with a failure of the voter registration system. Dr. Azra explained that there appears to be great enthusiasm for elections in Indonesia, and he has hope that the democratic transition of his country will continue to be successful.


There are still challenges to be overcome in the democratic process in Indonesia. Along with improvements to the faulty voter registration system, Dr. Azra pointed out that political parties are many, varied, and new enough that they have not yet solidified their constituencies and positions. This, he argued, leads to inefficient government and ever-changing party landscapes. Despite this, Indonesians are pleased with the success of the last election and are looking forward to the upcoming presidential elections.


Democratization has posed challenges to Indonesia’s foreign policy and its engagement with the world. Dr. Sukma noted that the transition from an authoritarian government to a democratic one has complicated decision-making and created new constituencies with interests and influence regarding decisions that are taken. Most challenging for the foreign ministry, and the country as a whole, has been redefining Indonesia’s identity in the face of changing values. Dr. Sukma explained that the country’s new foreign policy identity emphasizes democracy, progress and moderation.


The newly-democratic Indonesia began tying to assert its presence in the Asian region, an area where many different governmental systems exists side-by-side. Yet Dr. Sukma explained that Indonesia’s foreign policy suffers from several constraints, most notably an imbalance between the country’s intentions and its capabilities. Indonesia has limited military, economic, and political resources to use in realizing its goals in Asia and the world. The country also seeks to manage the desire to become a more active global player and the need to address pressing regional concerns.


Because of Indonesia’s limited economic and security capacities, the country determined to use ideas and initiatives to influence the region. Mr. Umar Hadi explained that the Bali Democratic Forum was convened in 2008 to create a place for regional countries to discuss democratization and study the challenges facing countries that wish to democratize. He noted that democratization is an important part of international dialogue in the rest of the world, but was infrequently discussed regionally in Asia. The Bali Democratic Forum welcomes all countries, regardless of their government type, to promote dialogue and cooperation toward the democratization of Asia. An associate organization, the Institute for Peace and Democracy, will create a place for scholars to research topics in democratization and provide information to interested organization and countries. As Indonesia continues to develop its own democracy, it hopes to help other countries develop democratic governments for their own people.


Azyumardi Azra is professor of history and director of the School of Graduate Studies at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since May 2007, he has been the deputy for social welfare at the Office of the Vice-President of the Republic of Indonesia. Dr. Azra is a member of the advisory board of the Multi-Faith Centre at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia; the U.S. Institute of Global Ethics and Religion; the Center for the Study of Contemporary Islam at the University of Melbourne, Australia; and the UN Democracy Fund/UNDEF in New York (2006-08). He is also member of the Tripartite Forum for Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Development and Human Dignity, launched at the UN on March 2006 and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the West-Islam Relations (2008-present). Dr. Azra is the editor-in-chief of Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies ; and is on the advisory board of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies (SOAS, London), the Journal of Usuluddin (Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur), and the Australian Journal of Asian Law . His latest books are The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia (2005); Indonesia, Islam and Democracy (2006); and Islam in the Indonesian World: An Account of Institutional Development(2007) (2007).


Umar Hadiis the director for Public Diplomacy in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia (2005-present). Previously, he served as the head of the Information and Media Division in the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, second secretary and information officer at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations in Geneva, and as political and information officer for the Office of the Chief Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Hadi is a board member of the Foreign Relations and Cooperation Central Board of the Muhammadiyah, an Islamic NGO; and coordinator of the International Relations Committee of Gema Nusa, a youth movement for civic volunteerism. His interests include Southeast Asian security issues, intellectual property rights, information technology, world history, and inter-faith dialogue and cooperation.


Rizal Sukma is executive director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta. He is also the chairman of the International Relations Division of the Central Executive Board of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia; member of the board at Syafii Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity; and visiting lecturer at the Department of International Relations at Muhammadiyah University in Malang. Dr. Sukma has served as a member of National Committee on Strategic Defense Review in the Indonesian Ministry of Defense, and as a member of the Drafting Committee on the National Defense Bill (2000-2002). His recent publications include: “ASEAN: New Challenges, New Horizons and New Targets,” in Stephen Leong, eds. Peace in the Pacific: Confronting the Issues (Kuala Lumpur: ISIS, 2007); “Trust Building in East Asia,” in Winfred Jung and Yan Jiangfeng, eds; Regional Cooperation: Experience in Europe and Practice in East Asia (Beijing: China Economic Publishing House, 2007); and “Indonesia and the Tsunami: Responses and Foreign Policy Implications,” Australian Journal of International Affairs , Vol. 60, No 2, June 2006. He is the author of Indonesia and China: The Politics of A Troubled Relationship (London: Routledge, 1999) and Islam in Indonesian Foreign Policy (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).