In June 1999, Indonesia held its first free national elections in 40 years. Abdurrahman Wahid, the country’s fourth president, was elected along with Megawati Sukarnoputri as vice president. Both of these candidates were the most popular, with Megawati’s PDI-P party winning the largest share of the vote. During the New Order, the Golkar party was the most powerful political force, but a number of other mostly Islamic parties won seats in the DPR.
Although poverty rates in Indonesia have been reduced by nearly half, over forty percent of the population remains under the poverty line. In these conditions, the old elite will seek to exploit social unrest to maintain their hold on power. The government must be able to defend itself from terrorism and other threats to the stability of the country. It should be noted that the Indonesian government’s approach to democracy is limiting itself to a few important areas.
During the early stages of the new system, the public was not consulted in policymaking. The controversial Omnibus bill for job creation was drafted without significant public consultation. The National Police, tasked with monitoring the controversy, actively dissuaded opposition. Protests against the bill were met with repression and disbanding of Islamic Defenders Front has exposed concerns about free speech and the intimidation of non-conforming views.
Despite widespread public participation, Indonesian lawmakers remain skeptical about the capacity of Indonesians to make responsible electoral choices. The government is planning to create an index to judge the capability of regions to elect their leaders. This index will most likely be based on socioeconomic indicators, which could lead to institutionalized discrimination against poor voters. However, the recent disbandment of the Islamic Defenders Front highlights concerns about freedom of speech and intimidation against non-conforming views.
While Indonesia has seen unprecedented growth since its transition to democracy, it still remains a challenging country to navigate. The national legislature remains highly centralized and the government is not required to make decisions, which limits its power to monitor corruption. In addition, the National Human Rights Commission lacks effective oversight and a robust media scene. In spite of these challenges, the country is on the road to achieving democratic rule in Indonesia.
In Indonesia, the MPR is the legislative branch of the government and is responsible for interpreting the constitution and laying out broad lines of state policy. In 2004, elections changed this structure to a bicameral system. The lower house, DPR, has four-fifths of the seats. The upper house, DPD, has two-fifths of the seats in the MPR.
Hicken cites several reasons for the failure of Indonesian democracy. While the country’s democracy is generally healthy, two vulnerabilities must be taken into consideration. In particular, a weak political party system has led to a high degree of electoral clientelism, which can lead to a more polarized social and political environment. Therefore, a direct election is the best option for Indonesians, but it will cost more than the existing system.