The Political System of Indonesia

The political system of indonesia, based on democratic elections and decentralized government, has strengthened significantly since the fall of Suharto in 1998. But the country remains far from fully achieving democracy and its potential for economic development, human rights protection, and peacefully resolving legitimate political differences.

Indonesia’s post-Suharto era has been shaped by a burgeoning domestic economy, decentralized governance, and democratic transition to presidential rule. But, even now, entrenched elites who have benefited from years of association with the former regime – and with the military – still dominate the country’s politics. Extreme social inequality produces marked regional variations in the quality of democracy, and antipluralist and illiberal social forces remain active. A reluctance by the military to cede full control of politics to civilian forces; oversized legislative coalitions required to govern in a multiparty presidential system, incentivizing the larger legislative parties to collude rather than compete and minimizing the effectiveness of rump parliamentary opposition; high levels of official corruption; dynastic politics; electoral clientelism and vote buying that distort representation and partisan politics from the local to the national level; and the spread of ordinances based on Sharia law undermine the government’s stated commitment to a secular state and violate international human rights standards are other serious challenges facing Indonesia.

Despite these challenges, the country’s democratic institutions are generally well-functioning, and its political leaders respect established constitutional limits on their authority. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), continues to be immensely popular, and his two presidential campaigns stressed a pluralist form of Indonesian nationalism and emphasised effective governance. His opponent, Prabowo Subianto, a former general and son-in-law of Suharto, appealed to traditional and religious sentiments and promoted law-and-order themes.

At the same time, however, Indonesia’s parliament has weighed in on the issue of presidential term extensions, and its upper house speaker has suggested that the constitution be amended to allow the delay of elections during an emergency. These proposals have sparked protests from activists and legal experts, who point to the risk of Indonesian democracy becoming a “presidential dictatorship.”

As in other countries, the strength or weakness of democratic institutions and processes depends not only on the attitudes and values of political leaders but also on the participation of all segments of society and the functioning of a range of state and non-state actors. The best way to ensure the long-term viability of democracy in any country is to establish a framework that provides citizens with opportunities for civic engagement and participation in democratic decision-making, promotes the value of democratic participation, fosters the growth of democratic culture, and respects the sovereignty of other states. In this regard, Indonesia has much to offer the rest of Asia and beyond. We encourage you to explore this report and its related data sources, as well as our other publications on democratic governance in indonesia. We welcome your feedback.