Democracy in Indonesia can be considered a model of development where basic human rights are assured and an active social contract established to manage economic, political, social, cultural, educational and religious institutions. The concept of democracy has undergone profound changes over the years and now it is practiced in almost all the Indonesian islands. Democratic parties enjoy a high level of support from the majority of the population although there are small minorities that express concern towards the governing system. A wide variety of social problems have been eased through the practice of democracy in Indonesia.
The transition to democracy in Indonesia was smooth following the downfall of the military regime led by General Suharto. But in the period immediately following the downfall of the military junta, there were sporadic outbreaks of violence and unrest. For some time, democracy in Indonesia was seen as a foreign concept because the Indonesian government and the forces fighting in the Aceh Forest (armed struggle) were seen as occupying powers. However, with the coming of democracy, Indonesian authorities had no option but to adopt democracy in Indonesia since the interests of the Indonesian people were safeguarded by the adoption of the 1947 United Nations Convention on Independence. In effect, the Indonesian government and its representative took part in the realization of the right of self determination among its people.
After the withdrawal of the armed forces, the transition to democracy in Indonesia was gradual. There was a rapid growth of political parties, new constitutional amendments were approved, and free trade arrangements were introduced. A new constitution was drafted and a new political party, the Moderate Party, was established. Sukarno was elected President of Indonesia in December 30th, 1947. Under the guidance of the United Nations Security Council, Suharto began the process of introducing a system of direct democracy in Indonesia.
On september 1957, after Sukarno had been elected President, Generalvorrant instructed the head of the Indonesian Army, General Widjo, to form a committee which would draft a new constitution for a democracy in Indonesia. The committee was composed of all the key leaders of the country: the prime minister, General Sulaiman, the cabinet, local administrators, the military and a few prominent family members. A meeting was organized with the heads of every district to be held at the Central Jakarta. At this meeting, thirty-nine signatories were present: the first president of Indonesia, Dr. Muhammad Ali Nik Ahmad, Dr. Temari Bargah, Dr. Wiranto Harusaki, Dr. Rafidiah B. Kerim, Mr. Idiomas Tanimura, Mr. Walaya, Mr. M.W. B., Mr. Abdulhamit Tjahani, Mr. Rufus H. De Joffe, Mr. W.B., Mr. Teodoro L. Hewson, Mr. W.H. Bhadrak, Mr. Mohideen, Mr. Kutebol, Mr. W.S. E. Bonding and many others.
After the meeting, it was decided that the constitution should include a provision empowering the military to take over if the general population does not concur. The provision however was inserted into the final version of the constitution and was printed with the title, “The Fundamental Principles of Democratic Government in Indonesia.” This was to serve as the text for the declaration of martial law in case there was insurmountable resistance by the people.
The story of Indonesia’s evolution towards democracy is interesting to us today. Although Sukarno did not succeed in completely establishing constitutional democracy, he did establish a system in which power was decentralized and an amicable political system based on representative institutions. The people still retained paramount authority but there was limited interference by the armed forces and the bureaucracy. The post-Independence period witnessed numerous constitutional changes and new constitution was drafted repeatedly. Sukarno attempted to introduce a universal suffrage bill but this was opposed by the western powers who felt that it would degenerate into multiparty democracy. It finally passed after Sukarno was deposed and the United Nations decided to recognize him as the first Indonesian president.