Indonesia Democracy

Over the last decade, there has been a decline in the quality of Indonesian democracy. This has been accompanied by rising Muslim conservatism, within and beyond Indonesia. Whether Indonesia's democratic model is consolidated or reversed will have enormous ramifications for Australia.


Indonesia is the world's fourth largest country by population and the largest Muslim society. Its location means it plays a vital role in Australia’s regional security. It is also a growing market for Australian goods and services exporters. Although investment and trade between Australia and Indonesia is under-utilised, an ambitious new free-trade agreement has now been signed that aims to change this.

Maintaining relations with Indonesia is therefore critical for Australia's economic and regional stability. And this will become increasingly challenging if the checks and balances in their democracy remain incomplete or deteriorate further. So, a thorough understanding of Indonesian governance is an urgent need for policymakers, law enforcement agencies and aid agencies.

The Indonesia Democracy Hallmark Research Initiative has been created to develop deeper understandings of these challenges across disciplines. Research through the initiative will assess Indonesia's democratic system and how Islam interacts with liberal democracy. It will strengthen and expand interdisciplinary partnerships. It will also build recognition internationally for the University’s work on democracy and religion in Indonesia.

The initiative’s activities include:

  • Offering funding for joint research projects with external Indonesian collaborators
  • Bringing leading Indonesian public or scholarly figures to Melbourne every year to work with researchers at the University and present to the public
  • Hosting annual research workshops (one for each research cluster)
  • Co-hosting an annual series of seminars in partnership with centres and schools in Arts, Law and other faculties
  • Supporting the Indonesia at Melbourne blog.

Research program

The initiative is focusing on three research clusters in Indonesian democracy: politics, rights, and Islam and democracy. Funding is available for interdisciplinary research projects that explore these clusters.


The quality of democracy within the political system has emerged as a major theme in the study of Indonesian politics. This cluster aims to establish the political drivers of this decline, including:

  • Indonesia’s political party system and its electoral design
  • The role of entrenched social interests and path dependency
  • The influence of global trends such as waning support for democracy and growing populism.


This cluster is exploring the extent to which human rights have been adopted in post-Soeharto Indonesia. This includes political, civil, economic and social rights.

A key focus is the failure of Indonesia’s criminal justice system to respect and defend civil and political rights. The initiative is well placed to lead in this area as researchers from across Melbourne Law School and the Faculty of Arts have already received global recognition for their work on past human rights abuses and high-profile prosecutions in Indonesia.

The exploration of social and economic rights includes:

  • Indonesia’s new large universal healthcare and pension schemes – and their implications for the establishment of a welfare state
  • How political discourses around Islam and morality affect the provision of health, education and other social services.

An interdisciplinary approach involving STEM fields, law and other humanities is crucial to cover all aspects of policy relevant to the observance of social and economic rights.

Islam and democracy

Indonesia has claimed to be an example of the successful democratisation of a majority Muslim society. But the post-Soeharto rise of Islamist influence has challenged this.

This cluster is exploring how recent developments in Indonesia relate to wider tensions between liberal democratic values and Islamism in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

Focusing on political Islam in Indonesia, it will also include comparative studies of other Muslim communities, for example in Malaysia, Western Europe and the Middle East.


2021 Seed Funding recipients

The Indonesia Democracy Hallmark Research Initiative offers collaborative research grants on a competitive basis each year to fund joint research projects with external Indonesian collaborators that deal with the key Initiative themes:

  • Politics
  • Rights
  • Islam and democracy.

The Steering Committee congratulates the successful applicants for 2021.

Birthing on Instagram: Analysing discourse on reproductive rights and autonomy in Indonesia
Meghan A Bohren
, with Rana Islamiah Zahroh, Marc Cheong, and Caroline Homer (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Nossal Institute for Global Health)

Precarity and Islamic populism in Indonesia
Vedi Hadiz (Asia Institute)

Memories of HIV/AIDS as lens on political change in Indonesia
Benjamin Hegarty (Social and Political Sciences, Arts Faculty)

Contemporary film as a platform for democracy
Edwin Jurriëns and Jemma Purdey (Asia Institute)

The politics of health policy in Indonesia
Andrew Rosser (Asia Institute)

Advancing democratisation through education: Identifying discursive resources for democratic citizenry among Indonesian teachers
Anne Suryani (Melbourne Graduate School of Education)

2020 Seed Funding recipients

The amplification effect: Tracing the impact of COVID-19 on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of vulnerable Indonesian communities
Linda Bennett, with Setiyanti Marta Dewi (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Nossal Institute for Global Health)

Leading the change: Towards a new framework of girls’ citizenship in Indonesia
Annisa Beta (Arts, School of Culture and Communication)

The Covid-19 pandemic in the Papuan provinces
Richard Chauvel (Asia Institute)

Engaging rural youth in food sovereignty and agro-ecological restoration in Central Java
Andrea Rawluk (Environmental Science), with Anna Sanders (School of Forest and Ecosystem Sciences) and Lilis Mulyani (Melbourne Law School)

Can national policy reform reduce the incidence of fire and land tenure conflict over areas of tropical peatlands? Insights from Katingan District, Central Kalimantan
Anna Sanders (School of Forest and Ecosystem Sciences), with Wolf Dressler and Tessa Toumbourou (Geography)

The politics of memory: Decolonising history in Indonesia
Ken Setiawan (Asia Institute) and Katharine McGregor (Historical and Philosophical Studies)

2019 Seed Funding recipients

An evaluation of drug rehabilitation services in Indonesia
Lisa Cameron, with Jenny Williams (Faculty of Business and Economics)

A critical discourse study of Indonesian media reporting on LGBT issues
Michael Ewing (Asia Institute)

LGBT Rights and Public Health in Indonesia: View from the regions
Benjamin Hegarty (Asia Institute)

Shrinking civic space in Indonesia? A survey approach
Dave McRae (Asia Institute)

Teaching religious tolerance and democratic attitudes in Indonesia
Anne Suryani, with John Polesel (Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy, Melbourne Graduate School of Education)

Forced evictions and the family: Case studies from Rawa Bebek, Jakarta
Ariane Utomo, with Brian Cook (Demography and Population Geography, Faculty of Science)


Initiative Chair

Professor Tim Lindsey, Melbourne Law School

Initiative Deputy Chair

Dr Dave McRae, Asia Institute

Academic Convenor

Dr Helen Pausacker, Melbourne Law School

Steering Committee

Associate Professor Linda Bennett, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

Professor Vedi Hadiz, Asia Institute

Associate Professor Kate McGregor, School of History and Philosophical Studies

Professor Andrew Rosser, Asia Institute

Professor Adullah Saeed, Asia Institute

Dr Ken Setiawan, Asia Institute


The Indonesia Democracy Hallmark Research Initiative offers collaborative research grants on a competitive basis each year. Grants are offered for joint research projects with external Indonesian collaborators that deal with the key research themes:

  • Politics
  • Rights
  • Islam and democracy.

The 2021 round is now open and closes on Friday 28 May 2021.

Download Grant Guidelines 2021 (PDF)

Download Application Form 2021 (Word)

Send completed applications to Academic Convenor Dr Helen Pausacker at


Whether you’re a researcher, external organisation or member of the public, you can engage with the initiative through workshops and public events.

For more information about the initiative, contact Academic Convenor Dr Helen Pausacker on +61 3 8344 1082 (Mon–Thu) or email

If you have questions or comments in relation to Hallmark Research Initiatives, email


We are proud to support the Indonesia at Melbourne blog. The blog offers analysis, research and commentary on contemporary Indonesia. It aims to stimulate debate and provide a forum for exchange of information and opinion on current events in Indonesia.

It includes articles from academics, graduate researchers, University alumni and external experts in Australia and Indonesia.

The blog reflects the University’s diversity of expertise on contemporary Indonesia, covering:

  • Politics
  • Law
  • Anthropology
  • Culture
  • History
  • Economics
  • Architecture and public health.

The blog is a joint initiative of the Asia Institute, Faculty of Arts, the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, Melbourne Law School, and the University's Indonesia Forum.

It is generously supported by Melbourne Law School, the Faculty of Arts, External Relations, and the Indonesia Democracy Hallmark Research Initiative. If you're interested in contributing, email

Image: M Risyal Hidayat / Antara

First published on 27 April 2022.

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