For three decades the 'New Order' in Indonesia had epitomized the kind of rigidly centralized authoritarian rule that gave little room for autonomously developing civil society-based organizations, and where oppositional political parties and the press were all but hamstrung, while highly orchestrated general elections provided a smokescreen for systematic coercion and brutality. By stark contrast, Indonesia today easily ranks among the most democratic countries in Southeast Asia, along with the likes of the Philippines and Thailand (the overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 notwithstanding). There is notable vibrancy in Indonesian civil society, while a multitude of political parties contest national and local elections regularly and vigorously. In spite of numerous potential threats against it, the Indonesian press thus far remains remarkably free. Furthermore, Indonesia's experiment with administrative and political decentralization has been lauded for its 'radical' nature (Betts 2003; Rohdewohld 2004), and in yet another break with the past, the Indonesian military has been forced to take a back seat role in formal politics, although it continues to jealously guard economic interests through involvement in a range of informal political alliances, notably at the local level (Honna 2006). The relative economic and political stability of the second half of the last decade, moreover, has largely overshadowed earlier, much exaggerated, fears of Indonesia being overwhelmed by communal violence, terrorist activity or descending into state failure.