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Elections in Indonesia: stablity, conflict and change

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D e p a r t m e n t o f t h e P a r l i a m e n t a r y L i b r a r y

RESEARCH NOTE Number 52, June 1997 ISSN 1328-8016 Information and

Research Services

Elections in Indonesia: Stability, Conflict and Change

Elections for the Indonesian

parliament on 29 May 1997

produced the predicted

overwhelming victory for the officially-sponsored Golkar party, which received over 74 per cent of votes cast, an increase from the 68 per cent it won in the elections of 1992. The Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP) also substantially increased its vote from 17 per cent in 1992 to nearly 23 per cent in 1997. The

Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) was electorally decimated,

following a split caused by

government intervention to

overturn the previous leadership headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first

President, Sukarno. PDI's vote fell from 15 per cent in 1992 to little more than 3 per cent in 1997.

This note outlines the role of

Indonesia's parliament and

examines the implications of the election results for Indonesia's increasingly uncertain political future. For a fuller analysis of longer-term trends, this note should be read in conjunction with another paper by the author, The Politics of Change in Indonesia: Challenges for Australia, Current Issues Brief No. 3, 1996-97.

Elections and Parliament in Indonesia Since the coup and violent

upheavals of 1965, Indonesia has been ruled by President Suharto's 'New Order' regime which has been based heavily on the power of the military. Elections in Indonesia are not designed to decide the

formation of governments, but to provide an outlet for popular desire

for political participation and to serve as a reaffirmation of the legitimacy of the government.1 The immediate function of the five-yearly poll is to elect 425 members of the 500-member parliament, the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or House of Representatives (DPR). The other 75 members are officers of the military nominated by the President.

The DPR's role as a legislative body is to approve statutes, most of which originate from executive government led by the President. Individual members of the DPR may submit draft bills but they are subject to Presidential veto. In keeping with musyawarah

(consensus), which the government says is a traditional Indonesian way of non-adversarial decision

making, legislation in the DPR is approved unanimously rather than by voting. Since the overwhelming majority of DPR members are government-sponsored, this

tradition is unlikely to be


The DPR also forms half of the People's Consultative Council (MPR) whose role is to elect the President. The other half of the MPR is composed of members of the regional assemblies, the Army and various functional groups sponsored by the government. President Suharto has been the sole nominee for the position since 1965.

'Free and Fair' Elections? A number of independent

organisations, both inside and outside Indonesia, have criticised the conduct of the recent elections, alleging that there was intimidation

of non-Golkar candidates and supporters and multiple voting by Golkar supporters and unregistered voters.

While such reports suggest there were individual instances of

attempted vote-rigging, the fact that the vote for the 'opposition' parties changed so dramatically from the last election can be seen as evidence that most people were able to cast their vote freely and the outcome was not predetermined. Former PDI supporters appear to have decided that the government-initiated forcible takeover of the PDI by opponents of Megawati Sukarnoputri had turned the party into a puppet of government. Most former PDI supporters either

boycotted the vote or cast their ballots in favour of Golkar or the PPP. The co-operation between some PPP and Megawati

supporters during the campaign led some of the PDI vote to go to the PPP, but Christian and secular-minded electors may well have opted for Golkar rather than

support a party advocating a

greater political role for Islam.

The more serious shortcomings of Indonesian elections are the

structured advantages given to Golkar which induce electors to support it. All government

employees, for example, are

required both to vote for and

campaign in favour of Golkar. The PPP and PDI are restricted in the time and extent to which they can campaign, while Golkar can call upon state resources for its

campaign and has the vote-buying advantages of access to official largesse.

Indonesian Political Parties

Three parties only are permitted to campaign in parliamentary elections. Any other parties operate illegally.

Golkar (Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups). Originated in 1964 as a co-ordinating body of anti-communist elements in the Army, trade unions, peasant and other organisations. Brought under direct government control in 1968. In the 1971 elections, government-sponsored candidates contested under the Golkar name and it has since become the officially-supported party. Golkar is often said to be more the political arm of the bureaucracy than a political party.

Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) (United Development Party) Formed in 1973 as a government-enforced merger of four Islamic parties. The PPP is strongest in regions where Islam is most influential, such as Aceh in Sumatra and in east and central Java. Its four constituent elements are poorly fused and the party is highly factionalised.

Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (PDI) (Indonesian Democratic Party) Formed in 1973 in the same circumstances as the PPP, as a merger of five secular-oriented and Christian parties. The PDI sees itself as the heir to the secular nationalist politics championed by Sukarno. Covert and overt government intervention in its affairs is a longstanding feature of its existence.

The electoral system is becoming a foreign relations issue for the Indonesian Government, with the US State Department calling for an investigation into allegations of irregularities and criticising the lack of opportunity for a change of government by democratic means.

Implications of the 1997 Elections The results of these elections are an indication of major changes

occurring in Indonesian politics. DPR elections have traditionally been intended to emphasise

stability and continuity, with the predicability of a Golkar majority balanced against a degree of

inclusion for the leaders of Islamic and non-Islamic/secular forces. The Government's undermining of the PDI, however, has upset much of this manipulated but largely

successful balance and

strengthened the position of the PPP and, by implication, the

Islamist groups which support it. Many PPP leaders may now be emboldened to attempt a more vigorous mobilisation of the

growing Islamic sentiment in Indonesian society. On the other

hand, Megawati supporters are likely to feel increasingly alienated from the political status quo.

While none of these developments has the capacity to threaten the position of President Suharto, they underline increasing uncertainty about how the Indonesian state will cope with the transition to a post-Suharto era. The violence which marked the election campaign (around 250 deaths, a great

increase over 1992) was an

indication of the growing levels of popular dissatisfaction with

existing political arrangements. President Suharto's 'New Order' has prided itself on a record of

impressive economic achievements since the 1970s, but economic development has brought major changes to Indonesian society and new restiveness about government restrictions on political

participation and civil liberties. President Suharto appears to

remain personally popular, but there is growing resentment about corruption and nepotism,

particularly the favouritism shown towards members of Suharto's family in both business and

politics. The 'New Order' has

depended heavily on President Suharto's personalised rule and the tight control over political life has not allowed for the growth of a new generation of leaders with the experience or popular support and legitimacy to take over after

Suharto's death or retirement. Suharto shows little sign of being willing to develop institutions appropriate for an increasingly sophisticated society and economy or to deal with growing pressures for political reform.

Dr Stephen Sherlock Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group Information and Research Services

Phone: 06 2772442 Fax: 06 277 2475

Views expressed in this Research Note are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the

Information and Research Services and are not to be attributed to the

Department of the Parliamentary Library. Research Notes provide concise analytical briefings on issues of interest to Senators and Members. As such they may not canvass all of the key issues.

© Commonwealth of Australia

1. Douglas Ramage, Politics in Indonesia: Democracy, Islam and the Ideology of Tolerance, London, 1995.