The Republic of Indonesia is located in the Malay Archipelago, the world's largest archipelago, between Indochina and Australia, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world and the fourth most populous overall. It has had free elections since the Indonesian 1998 Revolution toppled General Suharto, who seized power in 1965.
Under the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism, several kingdoms formed on the islands of Sumatra and Java from the 7th to 14th century. The arrival of Arab traders from Gujarat, India later brought Islam, which became the dominant religion in many parts of the archipelago after the collapse of Hindu and Buddhist Kingdoms.
When the Europeans came in the early 16th century, they found a multitude of small states. These were vulnerable to the Europeans, who were in pursuit of dominating the spice trade. In the 17th century, the Dutch emerged as the most powerful of the Europeans, ousting the Spanish and Portuguese (except for their colony Portuguese Timor on the island of Timor). The Netherlands ruled Indonesia as a colony until World War II, first under the control of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and then directly by the Dutch government beginning in the nineteenth century.
Under the nineteenth-century Cultivation System (Cultuurstelsel), large plantations and forced cultivation was established on Java, finally creating the profit for the Netherlands that the VOC was unable to produce. In a more liberal period of colonial rule after 1870 the Cultivation System was abolished, and after 1901 the Dutch introduced the Ethical Policy, which included limited political reform and increased investment in the colony.
During World War II, with The Netherlands under German occupation, Japan occupied the Dutch colony. Some of the Indonesian elite, and many of the future leaders of the Republic of Indonesia, cooperated with the Japanese occupiers, as they saw them as a welcome change after Dutch rule. In 1945, with the war drawing to a close, Japan sponsored a committee, led by Sukarno, to plan for independence. Sukarno declared independence on 17 August.
In an effort to regain control of their previously occupied colonies, the Allies sent in their armies, together with the Netherlands' Army. Indonesia's war for independence lasted from 1945 until 27 December 1949, when, under heavy international pressure, the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia's independence. Sukarno became the country's first president, with Mohammad Hatta as the first vice president. See Indonesian National Revolution
The 1950s and 1960s saw Sukarno's government aligning itself first with the emerging non-aligned movement and later with the socialist bloc. The 1960s saw Indonesia in a military confrontation against neighboring Malaysia, and increasing frustration over domestic economic difficulties.
Army general Suharto became president in 1967 with the excuse of securing the country against an alleged Communist coup attempt against a weakening Sukarno. In the aftermath of Suharto's rise, hundreds of thousands people were killed or imprisoned in a backlash against alleged Communist supporters. Suharto's administration is commonly called the New Order era. Suharto invited major foreign investment into the country, which produced substantial, if uneven, economic growth. However, Suharto enriched himself and his family through widespread corruption and he was forced to step down amid massive popular demonstrations and a faltering economy in 1998. See Indonesian 1998 Revolution.
In the period of 1998 to 2001, the country had three presidents: Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri. In 2004, the largest one-day election in the world and Indonesia's first direct Presidential election was held and was won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Parts of northern Sumatra, particularly Aceh, were devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004. See Impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on Indonesia.