‘An amazing change’
Indonesia is one of the most stable countries in Asia. GIZ Country Director Martin Hansen explains the reasons for this stability and why the company continues to operate there.
You have been country director in Indonesia since 2019 and were previously seconded there 20 years ago. How has the country changed during this period?
Back then, I witnessed the country emerging into a new era after the 30-year dictatorial rule of President Suharto. It was a fascinating transition process. Since then, Indonesia has undergone rapid development, not only economically but also in political and social terms.
What has changed?
During this period, Indonesia has steadily risen higher in the list of the world’s biggest economies and now ranks 16th – ahead of the Netherlands, Turkey and Switzerland. That really is an amazing change.
What is the political situation like? If we look at the region, we can see that economic growth is not automatically associated with individual freedoms and democracy.
I would say that Indonesia is now an established democracy, incidentally the only one among the 10 member states of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Regular elections are held without any major irregularities and they have always met international standards in recent years. Since the end of the Suharto regime, power has been handed over to five different presidents, including one woman. The next elections will be held in February 2024. After two terms in office, President Joko Widodo will not be standing for re-election.
Some people see signs of democratic regression in Indonesia, not least because of changes to the criminal code last year which restrict individual rights and ban sex and cohabitation outside marriage, for example. Do you share this view?
It’s true that there have been changes to the criminal code, but they were essentially designed to placate right-wing conservative fundamentalists, who might otherwise cause a lot of trouble. So the changes had a clear target audience. In practical terms, they are not particularly relevant. I think they were more of a tactical move.
Do Indonesians have the same freedoms that people usually enjoy in stable democracies?
Yes, they do. There are no moral enforcers telling people what to wear, and Indonesians wouldn’t stand for that anyway. They appreciate their freedoms. From what I have experienced, this 280 million-strong population is very tolerant. Islam is important but the country’s national motto is ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ – unity in diversity. The country is extremely diverse – in terms of geography, ethnicity and religion – but the different groups always unite behind this national philosophy. The cohesive power of economic growth, which leads to prosperity, should not be underestimated.