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Mudhoffir, Abdil Mughis. “The limits of civil society activism in Indonesia: the case of the weakening of the KPK.” Critical Asian Studies (2022): 1-21.


This paper examines the limits of Indonesian civil society activism in advancing democratic politics. This activism, mainly by middle-class reformers, has not only failed to prevent democracy from being hijacked by illiberal interests but also contributed to justifying the deepening of political illiberalism. A predominantly anti-political approach among civil society activists mainly aims to establish new institutions and policy designs to generate reforms, while allowing entrenched power relations to remain unchallenged and to pervade new institutions. Meanwhile, social protests mobilized by this kind of activism, both on the streets and social media platforms, also tend to be sporadic and have no clear leadership and structure, while protest demands are often contradictory, making these too weak to challenge anti-democratic interests. This paper challenges existing studies that extoll Indonesian civil society activists for their success in advocating certain legislation, policies, and institutions. The weakening of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, KPK) illustrates how even trusted democratic institutions equipped with extraordinary powers and capacities are vulnerable to vested interests. Not only have Indonesian civil society activists failed to defend the KPK, but many of them have justified attempts to paralyze this agency.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.