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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The elusive quest for statehood : fundamental issues of the state, political cultures and aliran politics in Indonesia Lanti, Irman G.


This thesis discusses the difficulties faced by the Indonesian state in its attempt to achieve a stable statehood. Three fundamental and unresolved issues have vexed the Indonesian state since the inception of the nationalist movement at the turn of last century: the state foundation (the choice between a secular arrangement or an Islamic state), regionalism (a governmental arrangement dominated by the center or a devolution of power to the regions/districts), and the degree of political competition (an authoritarian state or an open political system). Indonesia is a plural society, with hundreds of ethnic groups, speaking hundreds of languages and dialects. But throughout its history, the ethnic fault line has generally been drawn between the Javanese and the (seberang) outer islanders. The geographic distinction between the agricultural Javanese and the maritime seberang, coupled with the different extent of influence of Hindu- Buddhism, as well as Islam later on, have created divergent politico-cultural traits among these groups. These ethno-religious groups eventually manifested themselves into political groups. Earlier scholars of Indonesian studies, such as Clifford Geertz and Herbert Feith, called these groups the political aliran. There are three major aliran in Indonesia: the nationalists (Javanese-based nominal Muslims), the modernist Muslims (seberang-based purist, reformist Muslims), and the traditionalist Muslims (Javanese-based pious Muslims). Each of these groups has a major political party, supported by a network of mass social institutions, and each holds a distinctive view on the fundamental issues of statehood. Indonesian history has seen the ebb and flow of the aliran. After the heyday of "aliranism" in the 1950s, Sukarno and Suharto carried out "de-aliranization" measures in the name of "national unity", which lasted until the outbreak of Reformasi. The reform movement that helped push Suharto from office brought about a resurgence of aliran politics that had been in a state of hibernation for almost four decades. All of the important political parties that have arisen since 1998 have had an aliran cast or shape. The resurgence of the aliran has also marked a return of the debates on the three fundamental issues of the state mentioned above. This thesis has found some reasons why the resurgence of these aliran has complicated the efforts at democratization in Indonesia. All three aliran and their parties profess to want "democracy". But their respective understandings of democracy are different when it comes to the three key issues that have vexed Indonesia throughout its history.

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