In view of extensive democratization and decentralization reforms, Indonesia is still experiencing high levels of violence. Since the fall of the New Order authoritarian regime (1966-1998), violence has been privatized and subcontracted to civilian militia groups attached to political parties, social organizations, and political/financial mafia bosses.
The thesis is concerned with analyzing the puzzling dualism of successful transition in view of conventional democracy theory and the persistence of violence. In order to do this, variables in the conventional transition theory to democracy is juxtaposed to relevant arguments in the discussion on violence in Indonesia: Under what circumstances can decentralization of administration impact on the levels of violence? In view of theories on local elites such as bossism and local despotism when can local democratic institutions enhance the dependency on violence by local elites?
The thesis is divided into three sections. Firstly, it is argued that one has to view violence in Indonesia in view of selective reading of historical trajectories. Violence must be interpreted in relation to (1) changing continuities of local elite relations from the colonial period, and (2) mobilization and organization of crime and violence since the colonial period through mobilization for the battle for independence, the 1965-66 massacres, and the way the New Order regime incorporated and institutionalized these forces into the state apparatus. Secondly, the thesis demonstrates how the current mobilization of violence groups takes place against a backdrop of a kind of institutional democracy in which dominant actors have been able to monopolize the instruments of democracy. Dependency on elected positions to get access to resources has increased the stakes for competitions at the local level. The situation has not, however, led to a kind of Indonesian variety of local bossism which has been the fear amongst many observers. The system of rule in Indonesia is much more fragmented, a point that affects the way the specific manner in which violence is used, and violence groups mobilized and incorporated into a predatory system based on money politics. Violence is further privatized and subcontracted to civilian militias by dominant actors as a means to intimidate opponents as well as displaying symbolic power of mass support and entourage. Thirdly, the thesis demonstrates how the mobilization of civilians into paramilitary groups draws on extensive social forces and a tradition of creating , mobilizing, and incorporating crime as part of politics. It is argued that violence groups, whether as official parts of the structures of political parties, or as affiliated civilian militias (which seems to become increasingly more common) form part of social forces deriving their organizational strength from a long history of civilian violence groups mobilized in relation to various power centers. While these were fostered under the auspices of one patron, Suharto, during the New Order, they are today re-establishing themselves in relation to a fragmented and elusive system of dominance.
The thesis has thus demonstrated that democratic reform as it has been interpreted and implemented along the recipe of generalized conventional transition theory and a type of decentralization informed by the neo-liberal agenda of the World Bank, evades these problematic concepts of local elite rule, and the accompanying mobilization of society into a well organized system of violence groups. In view of historical experience, these trajectories may strengthen despotic rule and eventually lead to an escalation of conflict and violence at the local level.