Case Study: Variety of actors, programs supports change in Indonesia

Variety of actors, programs supports change in Indonesia

A variety of programs and grantees supported by NED and its four core institutes were part of the growing civil society that stepped forward throughout the 1990s to demand reforms in Indonesia. The public outcry that poured forth in the wake of the 1997 Asian economic crisis eventually brought to an end the country’s 32-year-old autocracy. Only a year after the resignation of Soeharto, the country’s longtime dictator, Indonesia held its first truly democratic elections since 1955. Abdurrahman Wahid became the country’s first democratically elected president on June 7, 1999, making way for a new era in Indonesian history.

Despite the challenges of working in such closed places, since 1991 Indonesia has been an example of NED’s multisectoral approach to promoting democracy.

All four NED institutes and a number of discretionary grantees were part of the Endowment’s long-term commitment to supporting civil society in Indonesia. NED’s unique structure, which includes two party institutes (IRI and NDI), a business institute (CIPE), and a labor institute (ACILS), allows it to offer expertise in each of these areas. NED-supported programs in Indonesia over the past eight years have ranged from human rights advocacy to workshops on transparency in economic decision-making to the growth and development of think tanks to election monitoring.

“NED funding was absolutely critical, enabling us to have an in-country presence in Indonesia,” said David Timberman in October 1998, then an NDI representative in Indonesia. That in-country presence was both crucial and beneficial when Soeharto stepped down in 1998, allowing NDI and others to respond quickly and effectively to the sudden opening of political space.

NDI had worked with the Indonesia-based Independent Election Monitoring Committee (Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu/KIPP) since 1996 to promote honest and meaningful elections in Indonesia and to encourage citizen participation in the political process. While the effort was experimental and small in scale, KIPP was able to conduct a credible, independent assessment of the May 1997 parliamentary elections despite obstruction, harassment, and intimidation by government authorities.

Programs implemented by CIPE, ACILS, and IRI were also aimed at strengthening Indonesia’s civil society. CIPE programs included seminars explaining how business associations in a democratic society can promote a genuinely free market through active participation in the country’s public policy process. ACILS provided legal and humanitarian assistance to dissidents and labor groups, and IRI conducted, among other activities, early consultations with NGO and government officials on the country’s draft election law.

NED has also supported a number of discretionary grantees in Indonesia over the years. For example, in the early 1990s the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, a Jakarta-based institution dedicated to fostering democracy, human rights, and public participation, used NED support to conduct seminars and publish a book intended to stimulate debate and critical analysis of the existing Indonesian electoral system.

In Indonesia, as in many other countries, NED makes the most of the support that it provides by adhering to its multisectoral approach. Providing expertise in many areas and supporting an array of different types of programs, instead of trying to pick winners and losers, increases the odds for success by helping to build a broad civil society that is ready to respond to democratic openings, wherever they may occur.