The Fragility of Democracy in Indonesia

democracy in indonesia

The Indonesian political system has been through numerous changes since the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian regime in 1998, transforming it to be more pluralist and to empower citizens with greater participation. The current system consists of a national parliament (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat; DPR), an executive branch of government (Yusuf Kallas; YK) and a supreme court (Deptutan Kesehatan Nasional, or DPN).

Despite these reforms, the country remains plagued by infighting among political parties and a culture of tolerance for autocratic rule. Moreover, the state has not yet been able to establish itself as a credible source of law and order or of economic development. These problems contribute to low democracy scores and an increasing number of cases of electoral fraud.

One of the reasons for this is that Indonesia’s asymmetrical party system has allowed for a proliferation of catchall parties with ideologically diverse support bases, many of which were established by former generals and wealthy oligarchs to fulfill their personal political ambitions. This has led to a vicious cycle of vote-buying, bribery and corruption that has undermined the integrity of the system.

The polarization of politics has also made it difficult to govern effectively, even with the majority coalition in power. During the run-up to the 2019 election, for example, President Jokowi and his rival Prabowo Subianto negotiated a deal that seemed to ease acrimony in a highly polarized political climate. The deal included appointing Prabowo as minister of defense and his party, Gerindra, joining the ruling coalition.

This political stalemate also underscores the difficulty of implementing Indonesia’s constitutional system. Indonesia’s constitution outlines the separation of powers (trias politica), separating the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the government. The parliamentary body, the DPR, has the responsibility for interpreting the constitution and setting broad lines of policy. However, the DPR is not always able to function effectively because of infighting between political groups, conflicts of interest and political manipulation.

A third reason for the fragility of democracy in indonesia is the prevailing culture of tolerance for authoritarian rule. A World Values Survey indicates that 1 in 5 Indonesians believe that it is acceptable for the military to take control when a civilian government acts incompetently. Despite the government’s repeated emphasis on the importance of democratic values, there is still a widespread perception that it is more convenient for the military to take over when necessary than for politicians to compromise or for ordinary people to challenge entrenched power networks.

Lastly, the political leadership of indonesia has not been sufficiently focused on building a genuine democracy, focusing instead on economic growth and limiting the role of the state. In addition, civic activists are too weak to pose significant challenges to predatory interests or change the balance of power within society. This has made it easy for oligarchic and religious interests to manipulate popular discourses on democracy.