Indonesia, a nation of thousands of islands and almost 250 million people, straddles the junction of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has presided over 6 per cent average yearly growth of its economy, to surpass $1 trillion. If this rate continues, Indonesia will join the world's ten biggest economies in a decade or so, just behind the so-called BRIC countries. The much-discussed recent documentary The Act of Killing revived some of its darker past, and Barack Obama's reminiscences about the childhood years he spent there briefly shone the spotlight on a country many Americans know little about. Yet as Indonesia approaches its 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections, its future is wide open. Though the largest Muslim nation by population, it remains a receiver of wisdom from the Arab world, rather than a messenger of multi-religious tolerance. Its pursuit of trade agreements with Japan and South Korea have burnished its economic ambitions, but its diplomacy is long on so-called "soft power," and short on sanctions or force.
So what does the future hold for this pivotal place? Award-winning Asia-Pacific journalist Hamish McDonald's Demokrasi is an accessible and authoritative introduction to the modern history and politics of this fascinating country.
McDonald, former Asia-Pacific editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, and author of Suharto's Indonesia, is well positioned to present an accessible introduction to the world's third-largest democracy, a country most Americans know little about. He opens with a concise but clear history, starting in 683 CE with the Sriwijaya empire but focusing on the 20th century, when the name "Indonesia" came into common usage. After providing a solid and balanced portrait of the three decade-plus governance of the Suharto regime (1967-1998), McDonald carries the story forward to the present day, which finds a populace eager for accountability from its elected leaders. Those still uncertain about Indonesia's importance to the US will find evidence here in the form of its growing economy, posed to be the sixth largest in the world by 2030. McDonald's insights including the observation that Indonesian foreign policy favors "soft" over "hard" power present clear reasons for the current limits to the country's international influence, and in general his even-handed approach allows for a sober assessment of the state of the country.