Indonesia History in the 1960’s

By | December 23, 2021

The installation, which took place on 25 June 1960, of the National People’s Council, devoid of deliberative powers and from which the representatives of the two major opposition parties, namely the Masjumi and the Indonesian socialist party, were excluded, seemed to sanction the victory of Sukarno and the adoption of its “guided democracy”. In reality, the president, despite having an undoubted charisma and a large personal following, did not have an adequate political base in his party (the Indonesian nationalist party). The military who had helped to eradicate the parliamentary opposition and put down the separatist uprising of 1958 limited its autonomy. To escape their protection, Sukarno rejoined the Indonesian Communist Party, which had 3 million members and which through the control of the largest trade union organization, the SOBSI, and of the mass organizations had a following of 10-12 million people. Although Sukarno’s ideology continued to be based on NASAKOM – a confusing synthesis of nationalism, Islamic traditionalism (agama) and communism – and until August 1964 his government included only representatives of traditionalist Muslims and minor parties, effective power it was divided between the military, which in addition to controlling the armed forces had a strong influence on the various governing bodies, the communists, who dominated the mass organizations, and Sukarno himself, who was the ruler. For Indonesia 2006, please check

Instead, it pursued a dynamic foreign policy inspired by active neutralism. The rapprochement with the Communist Party internally was accompanied by a pro-Chinese and to a lesser extent pro-Soviet orientation. This, as well as being the consequence of internal changes, was to serve as a cover for Sukarno for his heated nationalist and anti-colonial claims. The dispute over western Ireland had further escalated after the breakdown of diplomatic relations with the Netherlands, decided by Sukarno in August 1961. On 19 December 1962, he announced his intention to militarily occupy the disputed territory. Commandos landed and the sinking of two Indonesian torpedo boats in the waters of the Irian followed. On August 15, 1962, thanks to the good offices of the UN secretary and the former American diplomat E. Bunker, an agreement was signed which established the transfer of the administration of Western Irian to the UN and its gradual transition to Indonesia starting from May 1, 1963. The Indonesia pledged to hold a plebiscite among the 700,000 Papuans by June 1969.

Once the dispute for Irian was closed, the one for Malaysia was opened. When in September 1963 the British government granted independence to its Malaysian colonies as part of a federation, Malaysia, which united the possessions of North Borneo in addition to Malaysia and Singapore, Sukarno violently denounced the “imperialist plot”, threatening the resorting to weapons and carrying out landings of guerrillas on the coasts of Borneo and Malaysia in the following months. On September 30, 1965, under unclear circumstances, a group of military and civilians defined as left-wing, under the leadership of the scoknown col. Untung, tried to seize power, massacring a dozen generals. The gen. Nasution, Minister of Defense, and gen. Suharto, the strongman of the army, escaped the attack and commanded the repression, which hit the country very bloody. About 700,000 people, mostly Communists or suspected Communists, including party secretary DN Aidit, were massacred. Effective power passed into the hands of the army and Suharto in particular. At first he showed that he wanted to collaborate with Sukarno; but in March 1966 he had him deprived by the parliament of his powers under the accusation of complacency towards the promoters of the coup. Although dismissed, Sukarno retained the title of president until parliament also formally dismissed him on March 12, 1967. Sukarno lived virtually a prisoner in his palace until his death (June 21, 1970), while Suharto, elected president of the republic in March 1968, ruled the Indonesia with the collaboration of the military and technicians, such as the Foreign Minister, Adam Malik.

While reaffirming the neutralist line, he reoriented Indonesian foreign policy in a pro-Western sense. Relations with Beijing have become tense, also due to the violence against Chinese residents in Indonesia. On the other hand, Suharto put an end to the konfrontasi with Malaysia, signing an agreement on 11 August 1966 and collaborating with the new state within ASEAN, an economic cooperation organization established in 1967 and including in addition to Indonesia and to Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. In 1969, the age-old question of Western Irian was also resolved with a referendum held in July-August and with a UN resolution of November 19 that consecrated its annexation to Indonesia.

With the support of Western countries, from which it obtained a deferral in the payment of very large debts (2700 million dollars in 1966), economic and financial aid disbursed through a special body created on the Dutch initiative in 1967 (IGGI), as well as substantial private investments, Suharto managed to improve some aspects of the disastrous economic situation. Inflation, which was in the order of 650% in 1966, was reduced to 10% in 1970. Two five-year plans launched in 1969 and 1974 corrected part of the existing imbalances, abandoning the overly ambitious industrialization projects and giving more space to agriculture. Per capita income, however, remains around $ 100 per year, and new tensions are brewing under the guise of the restored order. These provoked demonstrations, especially by students, which culminated in riots on the occasion of the visit to Djakarta of the Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka in January 1974. The students, who already fought against Sukarno’s authoritarianism, are demanding the democratization of the new regime. In July 1971 this called general elections, which gave an absolute majority to a formation created for the occasion by the government, the Sekber Golkar. The Golkar has confirmed its dominance in the elections of May 1977, gaining 66% of the votes against 62% in previous elections. But the PPP (Unified Development Party), which brings together the Islamic movements of governmental observance, has achieved considerable success, reaching 23% of the votes and even ranking first in Djakarta and in some districts of Sumatra. However, the real opposition is exercised outside the Parliament, mainly by the student movement and, locally, by the independence movement of Ambon, which claims the independence of the southern Moluccas, as well as by the resistance movement that arose in East Timor after the ex-colony was occupied by military manu by the Indonesians in December 1975 and annexed in June 1976.

Indonesia History in the 1960's