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The national flag of Indonesia.


The national anthem of Indonesia.

The Republic of Indonesia (Bahas Indonesia: Republik Indonesia) is a large archipelago nation lying between Southeast Asia and Australia. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta.


The major islands of the Indonesian archipelago include Sumatra, Java, Borneo (shared with Malaysia and Brunei), New Guinea (shared with Papua New Guinea), Bali, Flores, Lombok, Sulawesi, Sumba, Sumbawa, part of Timor (shared with East Timor), and thousands of smaller islands, totaling more than 17,500; of these 6,000 are inhabited and 1,000 are permanently settled. Large islands consist of coastal plains with mountainous interiors.

Situated on the so-called "Ring of Fire" has made Indonesia prone to many earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, which are particularly violent. One such eruption on the island of Krakatoa in 1883 killed an estimated 35,000 people.


Indonesia's approximately 245.5 million people make it the world's fourth-most populous nation. The island of Java, roughly the size of New York State, is the most populous island in the world (124 million, 2005 est.) and one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Indonesia includes numerous related but distinct cultural and linguistic groups, many of which are ethnically Malay. Since independence, Bahasa Indonesia (the national language, a form of Malay) has spread throughout the archipelago and has become the language of most written communication, education, government, business, and media. Local languages are still important in many areas, however. English is the most widely spoken foreign language. Education is compulsory for children through grade 9. In primary school, 94% of eligible children are enrolled whereas 57% of eligible children are enrolled in secondary school.

  • Population (July 2006 est.): 245.5 million.
  • Annual population growth rate (2006): 1.3%.
  • Ethnic groups: Javanese 45%, Sundanese 14%, Madurese 7.5%, coastal Malays 7.5%, others 26%.
  • Religions: Muslim 88%, Protestant 5%, Catholic 3%, Hindu 2%, Buddhist and other 1%.
  • Languages: Indonesian (official), local languages, the most prevalent of which is Javanese.
  • Education: Years compulsory--9. Enrollment--94% of eligible primary school-age children. Literacy--90% (2005).
  • Health: Infant mortality rate--28/1,000 (2005). Life expectancy at birth--68 years (2005).
  • Work force: 94.2 million (2005 est.). Agriculture--46.5%, industry--11.8%, services--41.7%.


Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom apply to the six religions recognized by the state, namely Islam (88%), Protestantism (5%), Catholicism (3%), Buddhism (2%), Hinduism (1%) and Confucianism (less than 1%). In the resort island of Bali, over 90% of the population practices Hinduism. In some remote areas, animism is still practiced.


By the time of the Renaissance, the islands of Java and Sumatra had already enjoyed a 1,000-year heritage of advanced civilization spanning two major empires. During the 7th-14th centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. At its peak, the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as West Java and the Malay Peninsula. Also by the 14th century, the Hindu Kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gadjah Mada, the empire's chief minister from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now modern Indonesia and much of the Malay archipelago as well. Legacies from Gadjah Mada's time include a codification of law and an epic poem. Islam arrived in Indonesia sometime during the 12th century and, through assimilation, supplanted Hinduism by the end of the 16th century in Java and Sumatra. Bali, however, remains overwhelmingly Hindu. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic proselytizing took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, and, currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands.

Beginning in 1602, the Dutch slowly established themselves as rulers of present-day Indonesia, exploiting the weakness of the small kingdoms that had replaced that of Majapahit. The only exception was East Timor, which remained under Portugal's control until 1975. During 300 years of rule, the Dutch developed the Netherlands East Indies into one of the world's richest colonial possessions.

During the first decade of the 20th century, an Indonesian independence movement began and expanded rapidly, particularly between the two World Wars. Its leaders came from a small group of young professionals and students, some of whom had been educated in the Netherlands. Many, including Indonesia's first president, Soekarno (1945-67), were imprisoned for political activities.

The Japanese occupied Indonesia for three years during World War II (1942-1945). On August 17, 1945, three days after the Japanese surrender to the Allies, a small group of Indonesians, led by Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta, proclaimed independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. They set up a provisional government and adopted a constitution to govern the republic until elections could be held and a new constitution written. Dutch efforts to reestablish complete control met strong resistance. After four years of warfare and negotiations, the Dutch transferred sovereignty to a federal Indonesian Government. In 1950, Indonesia became the 60th member of the United Nations.

Shortly after hostilities with the Dutch ended in 1949, Indonesia adopted a new constitution, providing for a parliamentary system of government in which the executive was chosen by and accountable to parliament. Parliament was divided among many political parties before and after the country's first nationwide election in 1955, and stable governmental coalitions were difficult to achieve. The role of Islam in Indonesia became a divisive issue. Soekarno defended a secular state based on Pancasila, five principles of the state philosophy--monotheism, humanitarianism, national unity, representative democracy by consensus, and social justice--codified in the 1945 constitution, while some Muslim groups preferred either an Islamic state or a constitution which included a preambular provision requiring adherents of Islam to be subject to Islamic law. At the time of independence, the Dutch retained control over the western half of New Guinea (known as Irian Jaya in the Soekarno and Soeharto eras and as Papua since 2000) and permitted steps toward self-government and independence.

Negotiations with the Dutch on the incorporation of Irian Jaya into Indonesia failed and armed clashes broke out between Indonesian and Dutch troops in 1961. In August 1962, the two sides reached an agreement and Indonesia assumed administrative responsibility for Irian Jaya on May 1, 1963. The Indonesian Government conducted an "Act of Free Choice" in Irian Jaya under UN supervision in 1969 in which 1,025 Papuan representatives of local councils agreed by consensus to remain a part of Indonesia. A subsequent UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia. Opposition to Indonesian administration of Papua gave rise to small-scale guerrilla activity in the years following Jakarta's assumption of control. In the more open atmosphere since 1998, there have been more explicit expressions within Papua calling for independence from Indonesia.

Throughout the 1965-66 period, President Soekarno vainly attempted to restore his political stature and shift the country back to its pre-October 1965 position. Although he remained President, in March 1966, Soekarno transferred key political and military powers to General Soeharto, who by that time had become head of the armed forces. In March 1967, the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) named General Soeharto acting President. Soekarno ceased to be a political force and lived under virtual house arrest until his death in 1970.

President Soeharto proclaimed a "New Order" in Indonesian politics and dramatically shifted foreign and domestic policies away from the course set in Soekarno's final years. The New Order established economic rehabilitation and development as its primary goals and pursued its policies through an administrative structure dominated by the military but with advice from Western-educated economic experts. In 1968, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) formally selected Soeharto to a full five-year term as President and he was re-elected to successive 5-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998. In mid-1997, Indonesia suffered from the Asian financial and economic crisis, accompanied by the worst drought in 50 years and falling prices for oil, gas, and other commodity exports. As the exchange rate changed from a fixed to a managed float to fully floating, the rupiah depreciated in value, inflation increased significantly, and capital flight accelerated. Demonstrators, initially led by students, called for Soeharto's resignation. Amid widespread civil unrest, Soeharto resigned on May 21, 1998, three months after the MPR had selected him for a seventh term. Soeharto's hand-picked Vice President, B.J. Habibie, became Indonesia's third President. President Habibie reestablished International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor community support for an economic stabilization program. He released several prominent political and labor prisoners, initiated investigations into the unrest, and lifted controls on the press, political parties, and labor unions.

In January 1999, Habibie and the Indonesian Government agreed to a process, with UN involvement, under which the people of East Timor would be allowed to choose between autonomy and independence through a direct ballot held on August 30, 1999. Some 98% of registered voters cast their ballots, and 78.5% of the voters chose independence over continued integration with Indonesia. Many people were killed by Indonesian military forces and military-backed militias in a wave of violence and destruction after the announcement of the pro-independence vote.

Indonesia's first elections in the post-Soeharto period were held for the national, provincial, and sub-provincial parliaments on June 7, 1999. Forty-eight political parties participated in the elections. For the national parliament, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle led by Megawati Soekarnoputri) won 34% of the vote; Golkar ("Functional Groups" party) 22%; Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party linked to the conservative Islamic organization Nadhlatul Ulama headed by former President Abdurrahman Wahid) 13%; and Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party led by Hamzah Haz) 11%. The MPR selected Abdurrahman Wahid as Indonesia's fourth President in November 1999 and replaced him with Megawati Soekarnoputri in July 2001.

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