Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and American Interests
Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and the most populous Muslim nation. It is also a moderate Muslim state that is strategically positioned astride key sea lanes that link East Asia with the energy resources of the Middle East. Indonesia is seen by many as a valuable partner in the struggle against radical Islamist militants in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is continuing to democratize and develop its civil society and rule of law under the leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who many view as reform-minded. However, a legacy of abuse of human rights by the military that stems from the three-decade reign of former President Suharto, who stepped down in 1998, remains unresolved. The parliamentary elections of 2009 further consolidated Indonesian democracy and marked a continued preference by Indonesian voters for secular-nationalist parties rather than Islamic or Islamist political parties. President Yudhoyono's Democrat party made significant gains due to the voters' approval of the president. President Yudhoyono won the presidential election of July 2009 with a strong mandate. This is thought to enable him to pursue a reformist agenda in his second term as president. U.S. foreign policy concerns have focused on building relations with Indonesia to more effectively counter the rise of militant Islamist extremists, as well as to develop relations with a geopolitically important state. The United States has sought to promote democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Indonesia in addition to American trade and investment interests there. The election of President Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, and his subsequent outreach to the Muslim world has done much to spur expectations in Indonesia and the United States that the bilateral relationship will be enhanced during his administration. Expectations for development of the bilateral relationship were also lifted by the November 2008 proposal by President Yudhoyono to develop a strategic partnership between Indonesia and the United States. This initiative was followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's decision to travel to Indonesia during her first trip abroad as Secretary of State in February 2009. This report surveys key aspects of Indonesia's domestic politics and strategic dynamics in addition to provide general background information on Indonesia. It also provides an overview of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Indonesia. The report examines issues of ongoing congressional interest, including Indonesia's role in the struggle against violent Islamist extremists, security assistance, human rights, religious freedom, promotion of democracy and good governance, trade, foreign assistance, and regional geopolitical and strategic interests. The report seeks to provide a broader context for understanding the complex interrelated nature of many of these issues.
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