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Regional Autonomy and Special Autonomy

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Indonesia is a unitary republic rather than a federation, but in name only. After independence, Indonesia’s heated constitutional debates featured ethnic regions outside of Java (including Aceh and Kalimantan [Indonesian Borneo]) advocating for a federal system that would grant the provinces greater sovereignty and a greater role for their forms of traditional authority, while nationalists favored a central republic in order to depart from the Dutch colonial system, which governed the colony as independent regions. Nationalists also feared that regional sovereignty might lead to the disintegration of the country, given its heterogeneity across the widely dispersed archipelago. Ultimately, the nationalists carried the day and the 1945 Constitution declared Indonesia to be a unitary republic. However, following the fall of the autocratic regime of President Gen. Soeharto in 1998, constitutional reforms granting broad authority to local government have led to Indonesia operating in practice as a quasi-federation (Bertrand, 2007).