Challenges to Democracy in Indonesia

democracy in indonesia

The political system in indonesia is a mix of presidential and parliamentary components. Its structure is a result of constitutional amendments enacted after the 1998 riots that tore through the country and ushered in sweeping reforms of executive, legislative, and judicial authority.

The legal framework governing elections is generally democratic and electoral authorities are seen as impartial. The right to organize political parties is recognized and the system features competition among several major parties. Four new parties contested the 2019 elections, including two led by children of former president Suharto.

Indonesian voters are presented with a narrow bandwidth of candidate quality, but they consistently reward competent leaders and punish non-performing ones, throwing out four in ten incumbents running for reelection. This shows that Indonesians have the capacity to identify and support effective political leadership, even without the full set of civil requirements for consolidated democracy—such as a robust political party system, credible ideological platforms, and active civic participation.

A key challenge is the capacity of Indonesian civil society to translate their demands into a viable electoral alternative to the established parties. They must also develop the skills needed to build a committed base of supporters. Otherwise, Indonesians will continue to rely on spontaneous mass protests, which can have only limited success at bringing about change against a government that appears uninterested in public opinion and adept at inhibiting dissent.

Laws on blasphemy, defamation, and other sensitive topics sometimes inhibit the expression of views by individuals and groups. The 2020 enactment of Ministerial Regulation 5—which requires private digital services and platforms to register with the government or risk being blocked—also raises concerns about the government’s ability to restrict online speech, potentially limiting freedom of association.

Despite the many challenges to democracy, there are encouraging signs that the Indonesian people are increasingly open to dialogue with their governments. Public debate has become more tolerant of criticism of the ruling party and the government, and some of the more liberal elements in the opposition have made serious proposals for reforms.

The long-term health of democracy in indonesia will depend on whether the government can implement reforms to strengthen civil institutions and create a more genuinely inclusive political culture. It will also require that Indonesians accept a more diverse and complex polity, with more regionally rooted political forces competing against each other for representation in national and local politics. If the country can achieve these goals, its democracy will remain robust for years to come. In the short term, however, it is likely that Indonesia will experience periods of uncertainty and volatility. The nation’s history demonstrates that the path to sustainable democracy is not always an easy one. But the road to a more resilient Indonesian democracy will be worth the effort.