This is the second part of Claire Smith’s essay. Part one can be found here.

An illiberal end to mass violence in North Maluku

In North Maluku, the mass violence that followed democratisation officially ended in mid-2000. One year of successive waves of violence resulted in the displacement of over one fifth of the local population and killed an estimated 3,000 people.[i] As a result of the conflict, provincial elections were delayed until 2002, the government decentralisation process was halted until 2004, and provincial elections were postponed to 2007. During this interim emergency governance period, several important bureaucratic changes were made, aimed at restoring security and stable government.


The North Malukan conflict involved several different ethno-religious groups campaigning for greater political and economic recognition from and inclusion in the local government. Some sectors of the indigenous population had suffered long-term exclusion from the former regime’s state-led economic development programme. The reform process was seen as their chance to renegotiate their access to local resources. Other groups sought greater representation in relation to Jakarta, and attempted to seize control of local government.[ii] In both cases, these attempted renegotiations grew quickly violent, and the conflicts spiralled.


The central government responded by reorganising political and economic power locally, centralising it in the hands of local bureaucrats that it trusted, and marginalising those it did not. In confidential interviews, central government officials explained that the intention of their emergency policy was to “buy back in” local elites.[iii] If the central government enabled access to the emergency aid budget – the least monitored part of the local government budget – they could restore local elite support. Restoring the status quo and then shoring it up via the creation of unfettered budgetary control was a means to ensure both security and political stability. It was an unpalatable – but not disastrous – option. As De Waal (2009, 2010) has demonstrated for Sudan and Afghanistan, this political marketplace approach is the approach chosen by many national elites negotiating complex and fragile transitions.

This part two of Claire Smith’s essay. Part one can be found here:

By re-establishing and increasing the power of local bureaucrats, the central government restored the centre-regional government relationship that was shaken by democratic reforms. Via their relocation to the centre of local power, the chosen local elites were able to build up their own patronage networks, buying in local clients and excluding political enemies via their direct control of the new emergency aid budget.

As a result of the emergency legislation, the old bureaucratic elite managed to entrench their positions in local politics. They accumulated great personal wealth along with substantial election campaign treasure-chests for upcoming elections. Members of the local elite who challenged the bureaucrats in power grew increasingly marginalised. The local election results in 2005 and 2007 in North Maluku reflected the longer-run concentration of power within the dominant faction of the local bureaucratic elite. Those in control of the emergency aid budget dominated city and district elections and eventually secured the provincial governorship for a second season.[iv]

As the local bureaucratic elite deepened their political power via control of the aid budget, some of course lodged complaints about the process. Elaborate schemes for “grassroots participation” and “inclusion of minorities and vulnerable groups” were designed as part of the government-run aid projects, but these were a side-show. Displaced communities had little real avenues to benefit from the aid budget, or to complain about their exclusion. Local civil society and relief groups in North Maluku actively campaigned against the corruption of the emergency relief and reconstruction budgets by local administrators, but with little effect. Running on tiny budgets and without political support from local politicians, national activists or international agencies, their campaigns were vocal, but unsustainable.[v]

International organisations responsible for supporting the Indonesian government’s emergency aid packages to Eastern Indonesia between 2001 and 2005 – including the UNDP, with support from the British and the Netherlands governments, among other donors – quietly reported their dissatisfaction with the aid programme.[vi] But these agencies did not directly challenge the central or local government’s actions, focusing instead on working directly with the government on their broad-based national anti-corruption campaigns.

The patterns of corruption and patronage established in post-conflict North Maluku were not at all accidental. The capture of emergency aid budgets by trusted local officials was part of a deliberate strategy by the central government, combing security and patronage, to rebuild national cohesion and stability in the wake of mass violence. In this particular case, it worked: mass violence ended and the local government was stabilised.

The Indonesian government’s illiberal peacebuilding model also had its costs. Local politics was altered by this patronage and security based approach to peacebuilding: the future path of democracy in this region, as with other parts of Eastern Indonesia, took on a new trajectory. Rather than the emergence of a Westernised pattern of liberal democracy, the patron-client patterns of the old regime were restored in the new guise of increased local government power. Democracy paid the price for security in this case.

An even greater cost to North Malukan society came via the entrenchment of impunity. Many lives were likely saved by the government’s interventions, as mass violence was rapidly reduced. But the security forces and the proxy militia of local elites faced no threat of trial to investigate their own crimes during the conflict. Corruption of the aid budget by provincial officials was also off-limits to local prosecutors – and remains so in 2012 – who were either bought off or silenced by the dominant government elite.

In North Maluku, peace and security during a turbulent and violent transition was firmly re-established by the government’s illiberal peacebuilding model. But it was only achieved via embedding corruption and impunity in local politics. How this model will play out in the longer run – and whether minority groups will ever face redress for the crimes they experienced, if the long-term displaced will ever receive compensation, and if this local governance model will remain stable into its second decade – remains to be seen.

One of the next steps of this research project is to examine the effect of the government’s illiberal peacebuilding strategies, which have been remarkably successful in the short to medium run, in the longer run. Have the costs to the local population and prospects for democracy been worth the gain of stability and security? Only a longer run analysis can provided the answer to this question.

Indonesian peacebuilding models compared

I have argued here that Indonesia successfully applied an illiberal model of peacebuilding to end mass violence in North Maluku during its contested democratic transition. Even within Indonesia, the government’s peacebuilding model varied depending on the context of the local conflict. Depending on the perceived level of threat posed by the conflict to national security, the policy tools politically acceptable to the national government at the time, and the degree of international pressure, the government adjusted its model accordingly.

In Aceh, for example, the security-patronage model that worked for North Maluku would not have been politically appropriate. Following the tsunami of 2004, and the massive levels of international scrutiny that followed, the government had limited scope to continue to respond to the Aceh conflict via its long running highly militarised approach. In such conditions, neither could they use their patronage-based model. Instead, following the particular conditions brought about by the tsunami, an internationally observed and mediated political settlement was reached between the GAM separatist movement and the Indonesian government in 2005.[vii]

In Papua, the only region of Indonesia where violence actively continues a decade after the democratisation process began, a different peacebuilding model has been applied, with partial success. Limited international interest in the conflict, great national pressure to retain territorial control, and the perceived high risks of the conflict to national security, have led to a highly militarised illiberal peacebuilding model, but with some liberal adjustments.

Domestic pressures to accommodate local Papuan demands for greater control of their regional economic resources and a need to reduce the risks of organised violence against the state created the space for extensive local government reforms. These have included a massive increase in transfers of central government revenue to provincial government since 2001, and the creation of many new local governments, as well as the establishment of various Papuan forums within local government.[viii]

Extended patronage to regional elites from the central government appears to have helped reduce opposition to the central government, in similar ways to the government patronage system in North Maluku. However, this issue requires greater empirical research, and remains speculative at present.

To date, the hybrid peacebuilding model applied in Papua – combining security, reform and patronage – has not ended violence, but it has appeased some local challenges to the central government’s authority. The alternatives to the current stalemate in Papua – further liberal reforms; or greater military action– are both potentially too disastrous for the Indonesia government to pursue.

The prospects for a more liberal response to ending ongoing violence in Papua – via greater political reforms, direct government engagement with all political groups, and a reduction in the military’s operations – closed off with East Timor’s secession. Aceh’s internationally observed political settlement is unlikely to be repeated. Indeed, those negotiations were only possible given the unique humanitarian and political circumstances following the tsumani. Allowing even greater political and economic autonomy, or any formal recognition of Papuan political grievances, would be a disastrous option from the government’s perspective. Many in power believe the reforms have gone too far already.

The other alternative to ending violence would be to apply a variation on Sri Lanka’s highly illiberal military peacebuilding model. This entails closure to all humanitarian and development organisations, total political bans on opposition groups, mass arrests of all suspected opponents, and vast sweeping military campaigns in the most contested regions. Such a strategy would also be disastrous for the government. Indonesia has achieved a delicate stalemate in Papua, and such steps would trigger international and domestic outcry.

As such, the current stalemate, produced via Indonesia’s illiberal version of a hybrid peacebuilding model, is the only palatable option for the Indonesian government in Papua. The stalemate is highly unlikely to end the violence and secure meaningful peace. But it does avoid further political damage to the central government, and it does not entail Sri Lankan levels of military atrocity.  The ongoing violence and impunity of the military in Papua must be addressed – Indonesia cannot continue to be labelled a democratization success story, when such abuses continue. But, contrary to much international analysis, Papua’s unpalatable political stalemate is not the worst option.

Going back to Galbraith, he astutely recognised the disastrous implications of increased US military action in the Vietnam War and warned Kennedy as such. Yet a negotiated political stalemate with the Vietnamese communists was not a convincing option for Kennedy in 1962. Negotiated stalemates with their political and military opponents were also unpalatable to Bush and Blair in Afghanistan in 2001, just as they were to Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka in 2009. Both neo-liberals and illiberals continue to pursue their favoured – disastrous – routes towards peace, preferring military interventions to negotiated political settlements. The consequences of their unwillingness to accept the less violent, but politically unpalatable, option of a negotiated settlement – even if it ends in a stalemate – has been more violence, rather than more peace.

The Indonesian leadership, in contrast, has shown political nuance when it comes to addressing the conflict in Papua. The stalemate fails to win over public opinion in either the liberal or the illiberal camps (both domestically and internationally). But neither has the government triggered a massive escalation in violence, lost the main bulk of local elite support, the territory, or – as yet – the ongoing conflict.

Further research on illiberal peacebuilding

Indonesia’s peacebuilding models – combining security, patronage and partial reform – lie on a spectrum of methods selected by Asian governments since the end of the Cold War to manage political transitions. The spectrum ranges from the extremely militaristic and illiberal policies of Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa regime against the LTTE separatists, to Timor Leste’s internationally backed neo-liberal approach. Indonesia’s approach lies somewhere in the hybrid middle of this spectrum.

An issue requiring further research is the question of which of these models produces the best long-term chances of securing peace. To date, Sri Lanka has achieved a highly illiberal but relatively stable peace; whereas Timor Leste’s peace is fragile and erratic, and persists only with Australia’s continued military presence. Is Indonesia somewhere in between these two? Furthermore, what are the consequences of these models for achieving other democratic goals at the local level, such as political reform and reduced corruption? Does one form of peace undermine another? These are some of the questions I will explore in my further research on endings to mass violence in Indonesia.

The internationally prescribed neo-liberal peacebuilding model is premised on the assumption that it presents the best prospects for ending violence. But post-war violence has escalated following the introduction of the neo-liberal peace in many countries, including Timor Leste. Illiberal methods may undermine democracy, but they may also reduce violence: a significant goal in a post-war setting.

Many questions remain: Are illiberal, or hybrid, peacebuilding models sometimes better at securing post-war peace, even at the cost of other liberal values? Under what conditions is this true? What are the costs of illiberal or hybrid peacebuilding models, and are they worth it? These questions lie at the heart of my wider research project on endings to mass violence in Indonesia.

The field of scholarship examining liberal peacebuilding and its related problems, including the management of post-war violence, is large and growing. Leading scholars in this field – including Duffield (2001), Hughes (2009), Jarstad and Sisk (2008), Mac Ginty (2008), Paris (2004), Paris and Sisk (2009), Pugh (2005), Suhrke (2012) and Richmond (2006) – explore the contradictions in and implications of internationally applied liberal peacebuilding models in the post Cold War era. The longer term impacts of liberal peacebuilding are now under the microscope: what initially looks like peace can descend into violence, what looked like democracy can emerge into an authoritarian future.

The notion of peacebuilding in hybrid political orders (Boege et al 2008), where local or customary institutions, which are not necessarily liberal in nature, are incorporated into the more formal liberal peacebuilding process, is now of increasing interest. My study builds on this body of literature, but brings into focus a new aspect of research that remains poorly understood: the longer run impacts of illiberal peacebuilding models. I will explore the quality of peace and political society left behind one to two decades after the imposition of illiberal models of peace.

Peacebuilding – in all its forms – needs to be observed over the longer run. Only then will we be able to draw substantive conclusions on its effects, its costs, and its possible benefits, however unforeseen, to those communities living in the wake of mass violence.

[i] For a comprehensive overview of the year of violence in North Maluku, see Wilson (2008).

[ii] For more on the role of local elites in the North Maluku conflict, see Van Klinken (2007).

[iii] Fieldwork took place in several phases between 2005 and 2006.

[iv] For further details on local electoral dynamics, see Smith (2009) and Smith (forthcoming).

[v] See Smith (2009) for further details on the challenges faced by local anti-corruption campaign movement.

[vi] See Smith (2009) for further discussion of the UNDP’s aid programme in North Maluku.

[vii] On the Aceh conflict see Aspinall (2009); on the Aceh peace process, see Daly et al (2012).

[viii] For details on central government transfers to Papua following government reform, see Smith (2008).


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3 Responses to Part 2: Understanding Illiberal Peacebuilding Models: Government Responses to Ending Mass Violence in Indonesia

  1. Seth Kaplan says:

    Great article series.

    As you point out, hybrid models need much more attention. The same is true in the area of governance:

  2. Arie says:

    Hi, this is a very interesting article. It resonates with my research topic on state-society relations in Papua, particularly through the conception of legitimacy as a daily experience. I hope I can have a chance to discuss it with you someday.

  3. May this disaster will not occur again

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