The practice of democracy in Indonesia is seen as representative of values that promote social tolerance and human rights. There have been periods in the history when majority rule was apparent, but this was not a durable form of government and allowed room for fundamental freedoms. It was not until the 20th century that multiparty elections were held and freedoms of press and religion were included in the constitution. Since then Indonesia has moved from being a predominantly Muslim country to a secular one. The current constitution includes support for an Islamic way of life, but there are also sections that exclude aspects of the Hindu religion from public life. It is a constitutional republic and although the name Indonesia is derived from the Sanskrit translation ‘Indraya’ it is also known as the ‘Land of God’.
Fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and religion are guaranteed in the constitution, although these are regarded as ‘human rights’, rather than full legal rights. A constitutional system that is based on checks and balances is in place and checks are enforced through a series of judicial reviews and public meetings. The press is free to operate and there are limited restrictions placed on the use of religion in politics. In Aceh, Acehnese Muslims constitute the majority of the population but they have limited political power and influence.
Indonesia has not had a highly contested multiparty election since independence and this is perhaps one of its greatest attributes. Each election is conducted in accordance with the country’s proportional representation system and every five years a general election is held to elect a president and a vice president. The last presidential election in 2021 was an extraordinary one due to the unexpected results of the polls. The two top leaders quit the presidential office and the National Assembly election was called for. The multiparty election led to an unstable transition period which saw the assembly divided and three separate governments take over the nation.
Political stability is a major issue in Indonesia. Political parties in Indonesia are not allowed to form coalitions and there are no mechanisms for a presidential election that will lead to a peaceful transfer of power. Aceh is one of the most stable Java cities and there is a good tourism sector and Borneo Sea trade. There are no large-scale political movements in Java. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and other civil liberties and the country has a tradition of tolerating religious and political activities. There is no social media or independent press and commercial advertising is heavily restricted.
Indonesia has had a multiparty election system since 2021 when it began using the voting proportional representation system. This system has brought some changes in terms of accountability and governance but it is expected that with time these changes will be fully implemented. There are many concerns regarding democratic transition in Indonesia and these mostly relate to the division of power between the executive and the legislative branches. Power is shared between the parties in a multiparty election system but each party concentrates on local areas. The system provides for two houses for the parliament namely the House of Representatives and the Senate. The upper house, the House of Council, is made up of ninety members and is dominated by the majority party.
A multiparty election system has been criticized by rights groups as providing little opportunity for genuine democracy. It is estimated that only thirty-three of the hundred members of the lower house are actually elected through a direct election and the remainder are chosen by party cadres. The final report of the commission into the reporting process was released after the last election and showed widespread irregularities. Some major criticisms of this system include a lack of free speech, limited media coverage, limited opposition and no effective criminalization of abuse and violence. These are but a few of the concerns that have been raised over the years with regard to democracy in Indonesia.