Is Indonesia a Nation State in Danger of Failing?


By: Riwanto Tirtosudarmo

Indonesia’s slight decline from 64th in 2011 to 63rd in 2012 in the list of 178 countries ranked according to the Failed States Index 2012 recently was predictable and should not be exaggerated. The negative points for Indonesia concern three important indicators: human rights and law enforcement, demography, and minority groups.

These three indicators represent an interconnected phenomena rooted in the failure of the state in managing its complex development.

The increasing vulnerability of minority groups, as shown by the persecution of Ahmadiyah followers or in the difficulties for Christians to build their churches, clearly related to poor law enforcement and the absence of the state in protecting its citizens’ basic rights. The cyclical violence in Papua that is worsening has only added to the susceptibility of citizens and the lack of state protection. In this deteriorating security, demographic pressure might be highlighted as the underlying factors, although indirectly.

The inclusion of demographic factors in the measurement of state failure is particularly interesting and unusual. Conventionally, demography is considered a background variable and treated merely as aggregate statistics that can be manipulated to suit the policy end. The increasing pressures from demography indeed reflect the paralyzing structure of the economy and the embedded injustices that have affected the majority of the population.

In terms of demographic size, Indonesia is a giant country. It is the fourth largest country after China, India and the US. According to the 2010 census, Indonesia’s population stood at 237 million. The state has a herculean task in managing such a huge population with a growing birth rate now that the family planning program is no longer a national priority.

Indonesian demography is not only about its large size and rapid growth, but is also about the age structures, gender and ethnic composition, geographic distribution, and more importantly, wealth distribution. Demography and policy are closely interrelated. The demographic structure of a country is a result of a policy, but at the same time the policy is also shaped by the demographic structure.

The current system of general elections, which is based on the one man one vote principle, is strongly dependent on the age structure of the population. Democracy, in other words, is a politics of numbers.

The failure of the state in managing the silent but profound pressures from demography could lead to a massive disaster, as it affects the majority of the population. This logic is behind the reason of using demographic pressure as one of the important indicators for measuring the state’s failure.

It should be noted that the post-Soeharto governments no longer have the luxury of exercising coercive power. The restraint to use coercion, however, should not be the reason for the state to fail in protecting the human rights of its citizens. It is a universal duty of the state everywhere to protect citizens. In exercising its authority, the use of violence to enforce the law and to enhance public order is justified and legitimate.

The state as perceived by the Fund for Peace that releases the Failed States index constitutes not only the government, but also the judiciary and the legislative powers. The failure of the state therefore cannot be blamed only on the government. The rampant corrupt practices found in the House of Representatives, the judiciary and the government clearly indicate the paralyzed system of politics in this country.

Corruption is no longer a sign of individual greediness but has been systematically embedded within the political system. The promise of reform after the demise of Soeharto’s authoritarian regime is being hijacked by vested interest groups that betray the majority of Indonesian people.

At present there is apparently a miss-perception, particularly at the global level, that Indonesia could manage its economy in a promising way. Indonesia’s status as a G20 member provides a strong impression that Indonesia is a successful economy. Yet as the membership is solely based on the aggregate data on the macro national economy, it tends to hide many other economic features, especially the income distribution of its population.

The much talked issue, especially among economists, about the increasing number of people known as the middle class while might be the case but still the majority of Indonesian citizens undeniably belong to the poor or near poor groups. The glittering malls and cafes almost in all cities are misleadingly perceived as a sign of modernity and cosmopolitan life, as only a small percentage of Indonesian citizens enjoy them. The majority of Indonesian citizens continue living in very vulnerable economic conditions without job security or social insurance.

With the tag as a state in danger, Indonesia should therefore be perceived as a healthy reminder that the ultimate goal of creating the Republic by our founding fathers is to protect the Indonesian citizens, socially, economically and politically; no more, no less. Indonesian citizens, according to the Constitution, are all Indonesians regardless of their ethnicity, religion or origin.

The Failed State Index 2012 takes us to Thomas Friedman’s perceptive commentary back in the beginning of 2000 that Indonesia (and Russia) are messy states, and they are too big to fail.


Notice: This opinion article is displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on June 28, 2012. It is also able to be searched at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 28 June 2012].

The writer is a researcher at the research center for society and culture, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), and the author of Looking for Indonesia 2: The Limits of Social Engineering (Jakarta: LIPI Press, 2010).



  1. Indonesia termasuk negara gagal (failed state) karena pemerintahnya terlalu banyak menuntut hak dan mengabaikan kewajiban. Pemerintah menuntut hak agar rakyat membayar pajak, agar rakyat taat dan setia kepada negara, agar rakyat membeli produk dalam negeri, agak rakyat membela negara dari agresi bangsa asing, dan sebagainya. Tapi pemerintah lupa dengan kewajibannya untuk mensejahterakan masyarakat, membangun infrastruktur yang baik, menjaga keamanan dan menegakkan keadilan, memajukan pendidikan, melindungi orang miskin, dan sebagainya.

  2. Dear, Mahardika. I agree absolutely with your opinion. For example, let we give opportunity to the people who live in border area between Indonesia and Malaysia to chose options whether they want to integrate with Indonesia or with Malaysia. I think and I predict it that they will chose to united with Malaysia. Why? The answer is simple due to the Indonesian government does not care to them, infrastructure is bad, bureaucracy service is high cost, prosperity is low, and so on.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here