An Uphill Struggle: Advocacy NGOs under Soeharto

Indonesia under the leadership of President Soeharto was considered to be one of the strong authoritarian states in Asia. The presence of the strong government prompted political analyst to study political processes through focusing on political goals, interests, and regulations endorsed by the government. By emphasizing the role of formal institutions in interactions between the government and societal groups in Indonesia, this approach led to the conclusion that critical groups were unable to influence the political process.

This study aims to show how NGOs in Indonesia, as critical groups were able to exert some influences on political processes within the framework of a powerful government. This study undertakes analyses on three levels of abstraction. On the macro level, it analyses characteristics of the New Order state as the most important actor in the political arena. At the micro level, the analysis focuses on an exploration of the political arena through the uses of political studies. Meanwhile, an analysis of the development of NGOs and their political interactions with the government are on mid level, at the level of organizations and institutions.

Three advocacy cases are selected: Kedung Ombo, Marsinah and Labour, and Jelmu Sibak. These cases represents various aspect of the relationship between NGOs and the government, and further embody different political issues and processes.

This study is composed by eight different chapters.

  • Chapter I contains the methodology, hypothesis, as well as the main questions of the research.
  • Chapter II analyses several publications on the characteristic of the New Order regime and their implications for the relationship between the state and society.
  • Chapter III analyses the ways in which the Soeharto government strengthened, through various governing mechanism, its position vis-a-vis the three aims of political interaction.
  • Chapter IV focuses on the background of the NGOs in Indonesia, and on NGO advocacy in response to political changes that occurred during the latter part of the Soeharto government.
  • Chapter V, VI, and VII analyses cases which has been selected beforehand. Analysis in the case study chapter focuses on practical instances of political interaction between NGOs and government. Kedung Ombo case occupies a key position in NGO advocacy, since it dates from time when Indonesian NGOs were beginning to adopt a more critical role rather than the almost exclusively developmental role they had previously played. The labour-related case study considers Marsinah case specifically, and issues related to Indonesian workers in general. Jelmu Sibak case is a forestry sector issues, contains deeply vested interest within the state and among limited number of powerful groups.
  • The last chapter, Chapter VIII is the final chapter in this study, contains comparison analysis between cases and final conclusion. In general, the issues raised, and the way they were raised, were based on the Indonesian legal system. NGOs did not challenge the right of government to rule, they criticized only the prevailing political mechanism. The achievements of the advocacy NGOs also seems somewhat modest and not very clear cut, especially as NGO achievements were mostly followed by government counteractions.