Trade-offs, Compromise and Democratization in a Post-authoritarian Setting

Paul James Carnegie


Reconstituting the disarticulated political space of authoritarian breakdown is anything but straightforward. Distinct trade-offs and ambiguous outcomes are all too familiar. This is in no small part because political change involves compromise with an authoritarian past. The very fact of this transition dynamic leaves us with more questions than answers about the process of democratization. In particular, it is important to ask how we go about interpreting ambiguity in the study of democratization. The following article argues that the way we frame democratization is struggling to come to terms with the ambiguity of contemporary political change. Taking Indonesia as an example, the article maps a tension between authoritarianism and subsequent democratization. The story here is not merely one of opening, breakthrough, and consolidation but also (re-)negotiation. There is also an unfolding at the interstices of culture and politics and of that between discourse and practice. Unfortunately, the insight gained will not lessen some of the more undesirable aspects of Indonesia’s post-authoritarian outcome but it does afford us a more fine-grained reading of the reconfigured patterns of politics that are emerging. It may even generate discussion on how we interpret democratization and its dynamics of change.

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