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Keywords:

  • Indonesia;
  • sultanistic regimes;
  • democratisation;
  • democracy;
  • oligarchy

This article presents a systematic review of the literature of oligarchy in Indonesia, which offers a distinctive interpretation of political change in Indonesia. The article argues that this literature is significant in two important ways. First, it invites ongoing rethinking of the ways in which authoritarian regimes fall. In the mainstream literature of democratisation, the fall of authoritarian regimes is often portrayed as the triumph of pro-democratic civil society mobilisation. Whereas many Indonesianists embrace this mainstream account in explaining the fall of the Suharto regime, the oligarchy literature suggests that its fall was driven not so much by the rise of civil society forces as by tensions between Suharto and oligarchs, in which the former was abandoned by the latter. Second, the oligarchy literature also compels a reappraisal of the nature of Indonesia's new democracy. Unlike the mainstream account of democratisation, which holds an optimistic view that the country is in the ‘consolidation’ stage towards a liberal democracy, the oligarchy literature sees political transition in Indonesia as a journey to an illiberal type of democracy: namely, oligarchical democracy.