Muhammad A.S. Hikam describes constitutional and governance reforms and efforts to build a civil society in Indonesia since 1998. A member of the Hanura (People’s Conscience) political party, a former member of the Indonesian Parliament, and a former state minister for research and technology, he explains that prior to Indonesia’s financial crisis in 1988 and the collapse of the Suharto government, civil society in Indonesia was “corporatist”; that is, that except for the Nahdlatul Ulama (Islamic Scholars Awakening) Party, all civil society organizations and political parties were controlled by the state. In 1998, it was recognized that a strengthened civil society was the only avenue to challenge the overwhelming power of the state. The result was a flowering of as many as 100,000 civil society organizations and 38 political parties. However, nearly all came into being without the capacity or understanding to pursue their roles effectively. Many were based on ethnic or identity interests and did not know how to relate to the political life of the country. The challenge was to train civil and political society to find synergies between interests and needs. Without that, governmental reform has been, and will continue to be, a patchwork, he says. He discusses the successes and shortcomings of reforms in four principal areas: changing the constitution to reduce state domination, opening the political process to opposition parties, removing the military from politics and placing civilian control over the police and armed forces, and decentralizing government and ceding some autonomy to the regions. These efforts have proceeded without regard for capacity building, he says. As a result, poorer regions simply establish regional governments funded by the central government without developing their own capabilities. Hikam stresses that economic development is essential if regional autonomy is to work.
At the time of this interview, Muhammad A.S. Hikam was a member of the Hanura (Hari Nurani Rakyat or People’s Conscience) political party and a senior adviser to the consulting firm of Kiroyan Kuhon Partners in Jakarta. He first joined the government in 1983 as a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. From 1999 to 2001, he was minister for research and technology, and from 2004 to 2007 was a member of Parliament’s House of Representatives. He received his undergraduate education at Gadjah Mada University in 1981 and received master’s degrees in communications and political science and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Hawaii in 1995.