August 10, 2020

The Birth of Indonesia During The Soekarno Era

Hiwj.org – Soekarno (1901-1970) was born in Surabaya during the Dutch colonial administration. He was a nationalist leader and national hero who dedicated his life to the struggle for Indonesian independence.

In 1927, Soekarno founded and became the leader of a political organization called the Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI). This party aimed to achieve full independence for Indonesia. However, this subversive political activity led to his arrest and imprisonment by the repressive Dutch Colonial Government regime in 1929. For the Indonesians during that time, Soekarno’s exile only strengthened his image as a national hero and a freedom fighter.  After his release, he was in an ongoing conflict with the colonial government during the 1930s, causing him to be imprisoned many times than he’d like to admit.

When the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies in March 1942, Soekarno considered collaboration with Japan as the only way to achieve independence successfully.

Birth of the Indonesian Nation

When Soekarno, with Mohammed Hatta, the two most prominent nationalists in Indonesia, proclaimed Indonesia’s independence on August 17, 1945, along with a short and provisional constitutional publication, their challenges were still far from over. It would take four more years of revolution to fight the Dutch who, after being freed from Germany in Europe, returned to reclaim their colonies.

The Dutch insisted not to release their colony in Southeast Asia, which was very profitable but then had to face reality. Under international pressure, the Dutch finally recognized Indonesian independence in 1949 (western part of the island of Papua excluded). However, negotiations with the Dutch resulted in a “Republic of the United States of Indonesia,” which had a federal constitution that was considered to be too much influenced by the Dutch. Therefore, this constitution was immediately replaced by the Provisional Constitution of 1950. It later became the legal basis for a parliamentary government system. This guaranteed individual freedom and required the army to submit to civil supremacy. The position of president, in general, only has ceremonial functions in this system.

The debate between several influential parties on the ideological basis of Indonesia and organizational relations between several state bodies began before the proclamation of 1845. These parties were the army, the Muslims, the communists, and the nationalists.

First, the Indonesian army, the heroes of the Revolution, always had their political aspirations. However, the 1945 Constitution does not provide a political role for these militaries. This is a disappointment for them and a source of suspicion towards other parties who gained power through the 1950 Constitution.

Representatives of Islamic parties in constitutional talks – even though other topics do not represent homogeneous groups – want Indonesia to become an Islamic state governed by sharia law. But other groups consider that the establishment of an Islamic state would jeopardize the unity of Indonesia and could trigger rebellion and separatist movements because there are millions of non-Muslims and many Muslims who are not too strict in Indonesia.

Also Read: Colonial Period in The Archipelago

Another thing that caused anxiety on the part of representatives of Islamic parties and the military was the return of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). After being banned by the colonial government in 1927 for organizing uprisings in West Java and West Sumatra, the PKI won support in Central and East Java and became one of the most popular parties on a national scale and was a political force.

And finally, some nationalists emphasize the need for guarantees of individual versus state rights. Nationalists fought in PNI (the political party version of the PNI movement mentioned earlier, founded by Soekarno in 1927 and aimed at gaining independence). PNI won a lot of support in Indonesia.

Soekarno had to find a way to unite these different perspectives. In June 1945, he expressed his views on the nationality of Indonesia by proclaiming the Pancasila philosophy. Pancasila is the five principles that shall form the basis of the Indonesian State.

However, there is one ongoing problem, which is a barrier to the unity of a very pluralistic Indonesian society through Pancasila. Namely, the demand for the establishment of an Islamic state by Islamic parties. Initially, the Nine Committee (a committee consisting of nine independence figures who formulated the basis of the Indonesian state) agreed to add a short addition to the first principle: ‘Godhead with the obligation to undergo Islamic Sharia for adherents.’ However, before it was announced to the public, this first additional version of the state of 1945 (known as the “Jakarta Charter”) was abolished due to concerns that this could incur the anger of non-Muslim groups or non-religious Muslims.

Parliamentary Democracy

Instability marked the parliamentary democracy in Indonesia in the 1950s. The main reason is the difference in perspective on the ideological basis of the state. This situation was seen in the first general election in Indonesia. This first general election took place in 1955. It was considered honest and fair (and it would take more than 40 years before Indonesia could have another example of a reliable and unbiased election). Two major Islamic parties, namely the Masyumi and Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU (Nahdatul Ulama had separated from Masyumi in 1952), getting 20.9% and 18.4% of the votes respectively. PNI won 20.3% of the votes, while PKI won 16.4%. This means that there is no majority of one party that can control the government so that the cabinet in the parliamentary period is formed by building coalitions between various ideological streams. From 1950 to 1959, the seven governing councils swiftly changed, and each council failed to make significant changes to the country.

Apart from disputes within the Jakarta political elite, other problems endangered Indonesian unity in the 1950s. The Darul Islam militant movement, which aims to establish an Islamic state and use guerrilla warfare techniques to achieve its goals, has won territories in West Java, South Sulawesi, and Aceh. This movement had begun during the colonial period but quickly changed its direction against the government under Soekarno until its surrender in 1962.

Other subversive movements that have an impact are the Charter of the Struggle of the Universe (Permesta) in North Sulawesi and the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) in West Sumatra. Both began in the late 1950s and confronted the central government with demands for political, economic, and regional reform. These movements were led by military officers, supported by members of the Masyumi and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from the United States (US), who regarded the PKI’s popularity as a major threat.

By using military force, the central government succeeded in destroying these movements in the early 1960s. Finally, former members of the military formed by the Dutch Colonial Government named Koninklijk Nederlands-Indische Leger (KNIL) proclaimed the Republic of South Maluku in 1950. Although successfully defeated by Indonesian military forces in the same year, armed conflict continued until 1963.

Soekarno’s Guided Democracy

Soekarno was aware that the period of liberal democracy had hampered the development of Indonesia due to ideological differences in the cabinet. The solution delivered by Soekarno was “Guided Democracy,” which meant a return to the 1945 Constitution that governs a robust presidential system with authoritarian tendencies. In this way, he has more power to carry out his plans. The military, which had been unhappy with its small role in political matters until then, supported this change in orientation. In 1958, Soekarno had stated that the military was a ‘functional group’ which meant they also became actors in the political process. In the period of Guided Democracy, the role of the army in politics would be more significant.

In 1959, Soekarno began the period mentioned above. He dissolved parliament and replaced it with a new parliament, half of which was appointed by Soekarno himself. He was also aware of the dangers of his position if the military became too strong. Because of this, He relied on support from the PKI to balance out military power. Both the army and PKI are part of its philosophy called ‘Nasakom,’ an acronym that blends the three most essential ideologies in Indonesian society in the 1950s and early 1960s, namely nationalism, religion, and communism. These three components have little in common. Even each element has a problem with other elements. Everything depends on the political abilities, charisma, and status of Sukarno to keep the unity of these three components.

Another critical characteristic of Soekarno’s Guided Democracy is the tendency of anti-West in his policies. He strengthened efforts to take over the western part of the island of Papua from the Netherlands. After several armed conflicts, the Dutch surrendered this territory to the United Nations (UN), which then handed it over to Indonesia the following year.

Also Read: Influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in Indonesia

From 1962 to 1966, Soekarno held a political confrontation with Malaysia. He considered the founding of the Malaysian Federation, including Malacca, Singapore, and the previously occupied British Borneo region (Sarawak and Sabah), as a continuation of the colonial government and carrying out an unsuccessful military campaign to ‘destroy’ Malaysia. Part of this confrontation policy was Indonesia’s exit from the United Nations because the UN allowed Malaysia to become a member state. In 1965, Soekarno continued to sever relations with the Western capitalist world by removing Indonesia from the membership of the IMF and the World Bank. It meant that much-needed foreign aid stopped flowing into Indonesia. This worsened the economic situation in Indonesia, which had reached hazardous levels at the time.

Mysterious Coup of the September 30th Movement

The problem between the three Nasakom components is enlarged. On September 30, 1965, it became clear how dangerous Soekarno had created the political mix. That night, six generals and one lieutenant were kidnapped and killed by left-wing officers calling themselves the September 30th Movement. Based on the accusations, the military officers who were murdered planned a coup to bring down Soekarno. However, there was no evidence that there would be a military coup against Soekarno.

There is also no evidence that the PKI was behind the attack to prevent this military coup. However, Soeharto, the head of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) who later took over military power for being the highest military officer after the assassination of his superiors, quickly blamed the PKI. Immediately, communist followers and people suspected of the following communism were slaughtered mainly in Central Java, West Java, Bali, and North Sumatra. The estimated number of victims varies between 400,000 to one million people. It is alleged that the parties who carried out the massacre were military units, civilian criminal groups (who received weapons from the military), and Ansor (militant youth organization of NU). This massacre continued throughout 1965 and 1966.

However, many issues regarding the coup and subsequent anti-communist actions remain unclear to this day and most likely will not be known. After Soeharto’s New Order ended in 1998, Indonesians began to doubt official explanations from the Government, which blamed communism. Still, this historical chapter did not receive much attention in public discussions, except for a report from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in 2012, which stated: “This massacre was an extraordinary violation of human rights.”

This coup and subsequent events caused dramatic political consequences for Sukarno. Indonesia is under martial law, which makes real power in the hands of General Suharto. Over the next two years, Soeharto slowly but surely expanded his power and cornered Sukarno to the sidelines. This marked the beginning of Soeharto’s New Order. Soekarno was placed under house arrest in Bogor, and his health declined until his death in 1970.

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