The Fragile State of Democracy in Indonesia

democracy in indonesia

Despite a period of political reforms, Indonesia remains a fragile democracy. It is still plagued by corruption, poverty, and clustering of wealth at the country’s elite. In addition, the country’s political opportunists and extremist religious groups are poised to exploit social unrest to destabilize the democratic process.

The 1945 constitution provides for a limited separation of executive, legislative and judicial power. The resulting system is sometimes called “presidential with parliamentary characteristics.”

Direct Regional Elections and Their Impact on Politics

One of the most significant political reforms introduced during the Post-Suharto era was the switch from indirect elections that elect local executives to direct ones that vote directly for leaders. The shift was a response to widespread voter frustration over ineffective government and the lack of meaningful input into the national decision-making process.

While direct elections are generally regarded as democratic, they often fall short of delivering on the promise of increased public participation in the democratic process. In addition, they are not free from corruption and vote-buying, which can influence the results of regional polls as well as presidential elections.

Corruption is widespread in Indonesia, and bribes can influence decisions at every level of the legal system. Moreover, there are persistent reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, particularly in the context of civil and political rights violations.

Legislation that extends libel laws to online media is also a major barrier to press freedom. It criminalizes the distribution of information that is deemed to be “contrary to moral norms” or involved gambling, blackmail or defamation.

The judicial system has also been increasingly compromised by corruption, nepotism and collusion. A number of high-ranking judges were arrested in the surveyed period for corruption, including several Supreme Court justices.

In the face of deteriorating conditions, the government has resorted to numerous measures to counteract these threats to democracy. These measures have included the creation of a ‘people’s tribunal’, which can try individuals who have been accused of crimes against humanity and terrorism; a special courts that allow prosecutions without pre-trial hearings; a law that prohibits NGOs from using state funds for the promotion of hate speech and other discriminatory activities against certain groups; and a law that requires judges to publicly denounce anti-government statements made in their courtrooms.

Despite these efforts to address human rights violations, Indonesia has not achieved significant progress in the area. For example, the government has yet to fully implement a law to provide for an independent national human rights commission that can investigate and report on systematic abuses of human rights, such as arbitrary detentions, torture and killings.

As a result, civil society groups have struggled to build an effective counterweight to the increasingly influential interests of business elites and opportunists who seek to monopolize power through corruption and other means. Despite this, many Indonesians still believe in the promise of a democratic society, and are willing to invest their tax dollars to make it happen.

The most successful democratic governments in Indonesia have relied on the ability of competent leaders to connect with voters. This has largely been achieved by regional executives who were able to gain experience working for their communities before seeking higher office. While this model is not perfect, it has enabled more citizens to have a meaningful say in their country’s affairs.