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The Facts


new internationalist
issue 318 - November 1999



Indonesia is a diverse mix of peoples, cultures and environments.
The archipelago stretches across 17,000 islands which host
a rich array of plant and animal species, 336 cultures
and at least 250 languages.2


In June 1999 Indonesia had its first free election since 1955. The parliament is scheduled to elect a President in November this year.1

(From highest to lowest number of votes)

[image, unknown] DERMOT TATLOW / PANOS

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan) PDI-P

Led by the daughter of former President Sukarno, Megawati Sukarnoputri, this party is nationalistic and pluralistic, embracing urban poor to Chinese business people.

[image, unknown] Golongan Karya (Golkar)

Vehicle of corrupt former President Suharto, its presidential candidate is the current President BJ Habibie.

[image, unknown] National Awakening Party
(Partai Kebangiktan Bangsa) PKB

Led by Abdurraham Wahid, head of Nahdlatil Ulama (the country’s largest Muslim organization), the Party also draws support from Christians attracted by a moderate platform.

[image, unknown] DERMOT TATLOW / PANOS National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional) Amien Rais

Led by Amien Rais of the Muslim organization Muhammdiyah, the Party draws its support from students, intellectuals and the educated middle class.


The West is familiar with the trouble in East Timor. But many other areas of Indonesia are also experiencing violent conflict.6

Key to map

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] Bloody conflicts

[image, unknown] Disputes that are
prone to violence

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[image, unknown] Aceh [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Northern Sumatra [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] [image, unknown] West Kalimantan [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
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[image, unknown] Central and Southern Sulawesi [image, unknown] West Papua [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] Southern Sumatra [image, unknown] [image, unknown] Ambon [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
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[image, unknown] East Java [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] East Timor [image, unknown]
West Timor [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
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Click on one of the red or yellow hotspots on the map to learn more.


The Indonesian military seeks to quell Aceh Merdeka, a group of well-armed rebels who have been fighting for independence. This year both sides have increased the number of combat troops and hundreds of civilians have been killed.


Northern Sumatra
There have been several violent clashes over land rights between farmers and security forces supporting big plantation companies.


Southern Sumatra
In Lampung there have been attacks and fighting, mostly between locals and transmigrants from Java.


West Kalimantan
Fighting continues between indigenous Dayak and the ethnically similar Malay people against Madurese migrants from the island of Madura. Around 200 people have been killed, most of them Madurese.


East Java
This is the power base of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, which suffered a string of bizarre murders in late 1998. The city of Surabaya is also a hotbed of labour protests.


Central and Southern Sulawesi
Scattered violent disputes erupt here, sometimes over religious tensions and elsewhere due to local disputes over economic resources.


West Timor
The city of Kupang experienced clashes between the majority Christian and minority Muslim residents last year and the situation remains tense. East Timorese refugees and militias are involved in disturbances.


East Timor
Thousands were killed in the violence mostly perpetrated by pro-Indonesia militias around the time of the referendum in late August. The majority of Timorese voted for independence. An international peace-keeping force has been sent to East Timor.


Clashes between Christians and Muslims have cost more than 200 lives this year. Many report that undercover soldiers have incited the two religious groups to fight.


West Papua (Irian Jaya)
Indonesian troops have shot unarmed protesters this year and forcibly stopped villagers from raising the West Papuan flag. On the border of Papua New Guinea is a small group of poorly armed rebels, called the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).


[image, unknown] With 203.5 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country (after China, India and the US).
[image, unknown] Around 37% of the population now live in urban areas and the number of city-dwellers is increasing by 4.4% a year.
[image, unknown] The infant-mortality rate has fallen to 45 per 1,000 births (compared with 128 per 1,000 in 1960) and life expectancy has risen to 65 years, though progress on health has been derailed by the current economic crisis.7
[image, unknown] According to the Government’s census, 87 per cent of the population is Muslim, 10 per cent are Christian and 3 per cent are Hindu and Buddhist. Indigenous religions were not presented as an option in the survey.2

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The effects of the dramatic economic crisis which hit Asia in 1997-98 are now felt most strongly in Indonesia. Widespread corruption within Indonesia has compounded the problem.

[image, unknown] More than 100 million people, half the country’s population, are living below the poverty line.
[image, unknown] Since mid-1997, the average annual per-capita income has plunged from $800 to $300.
[image, unknown] Even before the economic crisis, 40 per cent of Indonesians spent more than a fifth of their incomes on rice. In 1998, the cost of rice more than tripled.
[image, unknown] Six million people became unemployed in the last six months of 1997.
[image, unknown] Studies conducted in 1998 found that 65 per cent of children under three were anaemic – a 25-per-cent rise from 1997.
[image, unknown] Seven million primary and lower secondary school students quit school last year. In Jakarta falling enrolment has prompted closure of 81 state elementary schools.
[image, unknown] The number of street kids has tripled to between 30,000 and 40,000 in Jakarta.3

[image, unknown] When President Suharto resigned in May 1998, his family had significant interests in at least 1,251 companies in Indonesia.
[image, unknown] As the economic crisis hit in 1997, Suharto’s daughter was planning to build a three-tiered above-ground transitway through Jakarta, his son an underground system, his other daughter a 95-kilometre bridge from Malaysia to Sumatra and his cousin the world’s tallest tower in Jakarta. All projects would have been sponsored in some form by the Government.4
[image, unknown] The Suharto family controls some 3.6 million hectares of real estate in Indonesia – an area larger than Belgium – according to the National Land Agency and Properti Indonesia magazine. This includes 100,000 square metres of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40 per cent of East Timor.5
[image, unknown] When Suharto stepped down, his family had joint ventures with 66 Western, Japanese and Korean companies – including General Electric and Du Pont of the US, British Petroleum and Lloyds of London from the UK, Nestlé of Switzerland and Energy Equity of Australia.4


Indonesia ranks with Brazil as one of the most biologically rich countries in the world, despite occupying only 1.3% of the land’s surface. Indonesia has a longer coastline than any other nation, reaching for 4,831 kilometres.8

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1 Far Eastern Economic Review 10 June 1998.
2 Understanding Global Issues 1998 No 1.
3 Asiaweek 18 June 1999.
4 Michael Backman, Asian Eclipse: Exposing the Dark Side of Business in Asia (John Wiley and Sons, 1999).
5 Time May 24 1999.
6 The Age Website www.theage.com.au/
7 The State of the World’s Children 1999, UNICEF.
8 Conservation International Website www.conservation.org/web/fieldact/regions/aspareg/indonesi.htm  
9 Peter Dauvergne, ‘Sawing Through the Economic Crisis,’ Amida Vol 5 No 2.

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New Internationalist issue 318 magazine cover This article is from the November 1999 issue of New Internationalist.
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