Date of Award

Fall 12-12-2022

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in International Relations


Political Science & International Relations


Vidya Nadkarni


For three decades (1968-1998), Indonesia was led by President Suharto, whose authoritarian military regime is remembered for its corruption and brutality. This paper offers an analysis of Suharto’s rule through the lens of two events: his 1965 purge of local ‘communists’ and the riots of May 1998. Drawing comparisons between the two, I delve into systemic causes by considering the influence of domestic and international variables. Exploring links between intergroup accommodation and democracy reveals that Suharto’s lack of ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious inclusivity paved the way not only for the anti-Chinese sentiment which pervaded Indonesian society during his presidency, but also for his downfall. Furthermore, international systemic variables played a key role in Suharto’s rise to power, which was supported by the government of the United States. During the Cold War, the United States viewed developments all over the world through a flawed capitalist-communist binary. Suharto’s impeccable anti-communist credentials allowed the United States to turn a blind eye to his assault on democratic processes and blatant human rights violations. American Cold War strategy and the rhetoric of making the world safe for democracy and against communism played an important role in legitimizing Suharto’s authoritarian rule.