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Civis 004/2015
Indonesian Nationality

Indonesia is one of the most plural nations in the world, a nation with around 240 million people, the fourth largest worldwide after China, India, and United States. The number of tribes in Indonesia reaches 1,300 with 500-700 active languages. All of the major religions of the world exists in Indonesia, the people comprising of 87% Islam, 7% Protestant, 3% Catholics, 1.7% Hindu and 0.7% Buddhist (BPS, 2010). With 13,446 large and small islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago country in the world.

Indonesia is a new nation in the world that didn’t previously exist and it was born through the Youth Pledge in 1928. It is a nation that inherited a very plural historical society along with all its struggles.1 For example, in the midst of said plural society, there are three types of laws, which are custom law, Islamic law, and civil law, which lives alongside one another and aren’t always in an agreement with each other.2

But, thanks to the nation forefather’s wisdom, and cemented in the Youth Pledge -One Country, One Nation, One Language: Indonesia, Indonesian nationhood was born as a ‘demos’ type of nationality, which means unity of a plural society, united by the soul and the spirit of togetherness and equality to achieve the ideals and dreams

together. This type of nationhood is very different with the ‘etnos’, which is based on common religion or tribe, which tends to have the majority-minority approach and the rule of majority towards the minority.

Aside from that, Indonesians managed to delve into the Nusantara wisdom and agreed Pancasila as the nation’s ground, which protects the whole plural society. Next, the plural ‘demos’ nation was united under Pancasila and a unitary state as their home.

This kind of perspective on nationhood is very important and has to be maintained and fostered, because this knowledge determines the existence of a nation.3

Therefore, Indonesia, which geographically is distributed into thousands of islands and community-wise, is very plural. It is managed to go through the reformation era and safely transformed from authoritarianism to democracy, even stronger compared to the previous times which was very fragile to local struggles for independence and regional discontent.4 Many other countries, like Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, didn’t managed to go through the process safely. Each of them has split up into several independent states.

Before reformation, Indonesia was the second largest non-democratic country in the world after China. Now, it is the third largest democratic country in the world after India and United States. The democracy we have is not only in name, but it is in essence democratic. The election of people’s representative has been done four times and the presidential election has been done three times through a public election every five years and it has been recognized as a free, honest, and transparent election.

Indonesia is a state with the largest Muslim population in the world, thus it has been the role model of how Islam, plurality and democracy could work well together.

Indonesia has been successful in going through a very fundamental changes in miraculous ways.5 There even are people who said that the state’s achievement whilst having the largest Islamic society in the world as a miracle in democracy6, thus becoming a special attention for democracy experts7 The democratization process through the 1945 Constitution Amendment, despite of its limitations, is rated as a very impressive feat.8

As it has been demonstrated in the past, Indonesian Christians have played significant roles in critical times in Indonesian history . For example, Johannes Leimena has played an important role in executing the 1928 Youth Congress, in the negotiation with the Dutch for a recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty , and for many times, as Acting President of Indonesia. Alexander Andries Maramis played a big role in the formulation of The 1945 Preamble and Constitution. Tahi Bonar Simatupang has played an important role in the struggle for independence, in building the Indonesian National Armed Forces and in negotiating with the Dutch for a recognition of Indonesian sovereignty. And there has been many more.

(Continued in … 3. Our democracy is a constitutional democracy)


1Eka Darmaputera, Pancasila and the Search for Identity and Modernity in Indonesian Society, A Cultural and Ethical Analysis, PhD. dissertation, The Faculty of The Joint Graduate Program, Boston College and Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, 1982; p28.

2Jan Michiels Otto, Sharia and National Law in Indonesia, in Sharia Incorporated, A Comparative Overview Of The Legal Systems Of  Twelve Muslim Countries In Past And Present, Jan Michiels Otto (ed.), Leiden University Press, 2010, pp. 440-441.

3This strength wasn’t  found in the Egyptians or Myanmar for example, thus complicates them from doing reformation.

4The 1945 Constitution Amendment was done in 4 phases. The first phase was done in October 1 to 14, 1999, arranged by the Ad-Hoc III Committee. The second, third, and fourth phase was done by the Ad-Hoc I Committee from November 1999 to December 2002. Ad-Hoc III Committee was headed by Harun Kamil SH, and Ad-Hoc I Committee was headed by drs. Jakob Tobing, MPA.

5R.E. Elson, The Idea of Indonesia. A History, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p294.

6Mirjam Kunkler dan Alfred Stephan, Indonesian Democratization in Theoretical Perspective, in Mirjam Kunkler and Alfred Stephan (ed.), Democracy and Islam in Indonesia, Columbia University Press, New York, 2013, p1.

7Alfred Stephan, Religion, Democracy, and the Twin Tolerations, in Larry Diamond (ed.), World Religions and Democarcy, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2005. 

8Adnan Buyung Nasution, The Thought and Ideas in Constitutional Democracy (in Indonesian), Kompas Book Publisher, 2010, p103.


(This Paper was presented in the Church and Politics Strategic Forum held by Leimena Institute in Jakarta on February 9-12, 2015)

Drs. Jakob Tobing, MPA

Drs. Jakob Tobing, MPA

President, Leimena Institute

Jakob Tobing is one of the most prominent architects of the new democratic Indonesia. He played an instrumental role in Indonesia’s transition from the authoritarian rule to democracy in 1998. He was then entrusted as the Chairman of the 1999 National Election Committee and the 1999-2004 Parliamentary Commission on the Constitutional Amendment – the two important bodies that decisively replaced authoritarianism with democracy in Indonesia. Under his leadership, the constitutional amendment has guaranteed the principles of democracy, rule of law, and human rights, which is now seen as a model by many other countries. He was a student leader against the old order in 1966, appointed as member of parliament in 1968, and became the Vice Chairman of the ruling party during the Suharto’s regime. But during the height of the authoritarian regime, he joined the opposition and was invited to join and establish the reform PDIP party by its Chairman Megawati Soekarnoputri, who later became the President of Indonesia. President Habibie decorated him with Mahaputera Utama medal in 1999. After more than three decades as a member of parliament, in 2004 he was appointed as the Indonesian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, a leadership role which again he performed so outstanding that the Republic of Korea awarded him the Gwanghwa medal—the country’s highest diplomatic award. He received his graduate degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA.