Indonesia Political Situation

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Heather Garven
1:10pm Monday 30 November

Indonesia Political Situation

Indonesia's political system is a constitutional democracy. The current system is the result of various constitutional amendments after the fall of the authoritarian President Soeharto in 1998. The president is now elected in a general election every five years (until 2004 the president was elected by the MPR). The legislature is made up of two bodies: the House of Representatives (DPR) and the Regional Representatives' Assembly (DPD), mandated to deal with regional affairs. The supreme constitutional body is the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), consisting of both the DPR and DPD sitting together. The MPR is the final arbiter - after Parliament and the Constitutional Court - of constitutional amendments and impeachment proceedings. It sat frequently until 2004, but is now expected to sit only once during a presidential term unless the nation is confronted by a major political crisis.

The main ideological strands in Indonesian politics are secular/nationalist and religious. The former has always been in the ascendancy and is for the most part supported by the main Muslim organisations, who guardedly accept the principle of a state that does not privilege one particular religion. Indonesia's own version of a secular-oriented ideology is "Pancasila" (designed by the nation's first president, Soekarno) which among other things requires belief in a single god but pointedly does not tie that belief to a specific religion. Since independence, Pancasila has been a sore point for the Islamist minority, who seek at the very least some form of constitutional requirement for the state to enforce Islamic principles on its Muslim population.

The post-independence political landscape has been dominated by Presidents Soekarno (1949-66) and Soeharto (1967-98). The Soekarno years were marked by political instability, economic decline and the dismantling of Indonesia's first parliamentary democracy. Soekarno's leadership ended in an armed coup in September 1965 in which Major General Soeharto rose to power and formally assumed the Presidency in March 1967.

President Soeharto's rule from 1967-98 was marked by economic development, political stability and close relations with the West. It was, however, marred by human rights abuses, centralised authoritarian rule, weakening of the non-executive branches of government and increased military involvement in politics and business. The final years of the Soeharto era were marked by growing public disenchantment and rising street protests, fuelled by the severe impact of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the rupiah. Having lost public, military and Cabinet support, Soeharto resigned on 21 May 1998.

The six years from Soeharto's downfall to President Yudhoyono's election saw three transitional presidents. Soeharto was succeeded by his Vice-President, BJ Habibie, who responded to public expectations by introducing political reforms, the most significant being the genuinely open and pluralistic national parliamentary elections held in June 1999. The MPR (People's Consultative Assembly) elected moderate Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid as President in late 1999. His government made limited progress towards addressing the longer-term problems faced by Indonesia. In July 2001 the MPR voted overwhelmingly to revoke President Wahid's mandate and replaced him with his Vice-President, Megawati Soekarnoputri.

During President Megawati's term, macro-economic indicators improved (although foreign direct investment (FDI) remained sluggish and unemployment very high) and there was enhanced political stability. Her government put in place the mechanism for the first direct Presidential election. In the play-off round of that election on 20 September 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won the popular vote by 61% to Megawati's 39%.

Current President Yudhoyono faces similar challenges to those that confronted his predecessors in the post-Soeharto era. The need to address corruption, inadequate FDI flows, unemployment/underemployment and legal reform are priorities for his Government. A defining achievement of his presidency so far has been the peace agreement and subsequent peaceful elections in Aceh, ending years of armed conflict. Yudhoyono has also indicated that he places importance on consolidating the Special Autonomy Law for Papua and West Papua. The military (TNI) remains an influential player in Indonesia - principally as a consequence of its territorial command structure - although it no longer has a direct role in political affairs, having lost its reserved seats in parliament after October 2004.

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Last updated: 04 December 2008