Indonesia Table of Contents

When Indonesians went to the polls every five years to elect members of the DPR, it was not with the expectation that in casting a vote they could effect any real changes in the way Indonesia was governed. The system was not designed for opposition. The PDI and PPP did not present competitively alternative platforms to Golkar's government platform. The parties' candidate lists were screened and individual candidates approved by the government. For the 1992 elections, 2,283 candidates were on the lists for the 400 seats at stake.

The elector did not vote for a particular candidate but for the party, which if it won would designate the representative from the party's list. The elections were organized by the government-appointed election commission headed by the minister of home affairs. All campaigns were conducted in the framework of Pancasila democracy, which meant that in the twenty-five-day campaign period, reduced in 1987 from forty-five days, government policy and programs could be criticized only warily and indirectly, and the president could not be criticized at all. Strict campaign rules applied. For the 1992 election, automobile rallies and picture posters of political leaders were banned. No PDI posters of Sukarno, for example, were allowed. Large outdoor rallies were discouraged, which meant that acts of violence and rowdyism by youthful participants in the "Festival of Democracy" decreased in 1992. Radio and television appeals had to be approved in advance by the elections commission. There was no campaigning at all in the five days before the elections. Even if there had been fewer constraints on campaign freedoms, the results in terms of structural impact on the functioning of the government would not be much greater than those engendered by the large number of appointed members of the DPR and the minority position of the elected members of the DPR in the MPR.

Even so, elections did matter. They were one of the elements in the institutionalization of the New Order system. It was estimated that 111 million Indonesians were eligible to vote in 1992. Giving the broad population a sense of participation contributed to regime legitimacy. The elections also provided, to some degree, a channel of public opinion feedback to the government. Finally, the election process helped to mobilize the public to support government policy. The feedback and mobilization function of the electoral process was becoming more important as the number of voters who had no direct memory of pre-Suharto Indonesia increased. The 1992 election saw 17 million first-time voters.

During the first twenty-five years of New Order government, there were five national elections. The 1971 election was Indonesia's second general election since independence and the first since 1955. (Provincial elections were held in 1957.) Golkar and nine other parties ran, compared with twenty-eight parties in 1955. The outcome was predictable given the rules of the game and the resources available to the government supporters. Golkar won more than 62 percent of the vote. The four Islamic parties shared 27.1 percent of the total, led by Nahdatul Ulama's 18.7 percent. The remaining 10.1 percent of the total was scattered among the other five parties.

Not surprisingly, Golkar dominated every successive election. In 1977 the second DPR election saw the field of parties reduced to three as a result of the 1973 party merger. The relative percentage of votes was not dramatically different, with Golkar losing less than 1 percent; the PPP gained 29.3 percent and the PDI, beginning its decline, fell to 8.6 percent. The size and loyalty of the PPP's electoral base, despite all-out government support for Golkar, reinforced the government's interest in limiting political Islam. In the 1982 elections, Golkar won 64.3 percent of the total vote cast, trailed by the PPP's 27.8 percent and the PDI's 7.9 percent. Golkar swept twenty-six of the twentyseven provinces and regions, losing only strongly Islamic Aceh to the PPP. The victory was made sweeter for Golkar by its recapturing the electoral edge in Jakarta from the PPP, which had won the district in the 1977 elections. In the 1987 elections, Golkar won in a landslide, crushing the opposition parties with more than 73 percent of the vote to the PPP's 16 percent and the PDI's 10.9 percent. Golkar's victory led to fears that Indonesia had become a de facto single-party state. Golkar even triumphed in Aceh with a 52 percent majority. The precipitous (40 percent) drop between 1982 and 1987 in the PPP's vote total can be attributed largely to the 1984 decision by Nahdatul Ulama, the PPP's largest component, to withdraw from organized competitive politics. Analysis of the election returns showed that many of the former Nahdatul Ulama votes for the PPP went to Golkar in a demonstration of both Nahdatul Ulama's ability to deliver its constituents and a guarantee of continued government favor to Nahdatul Ulama's institutions and programs.

The June 9, 1992, election had no surprises. In a calm and orderly atmosphere, more than 97 million Indonesians voted, 90 percent of the 108 million registered voters. Golkar won 68 percent of the popular vote, down by 5 percent from 1987, but nevertheless very satisfactory for the government. Golkar support ranged from a high of more than 90 percent in Jambi, Lampung, and Nusa Tenggara Timur provinces to Jakarta's 52 percent. The PPP held its own with 17 percent of the vote and, at least in the official final tally, actually ran ahead of the PDI in Jakarta with 24.5 percent of the vote to the PDI's 23.1 percent. The support for the PDI, the closest to a "democratic opposition" party, jumped from 10.9 percent in 1987 to 15 percent. These figures translated into 281 DPR seats for Golkar (down 18 seats from 1987), 63 for PPP (down 2 seats), and 56 for the PDI (an increase of 16 seats).

The outcome of the 1992 election led to some cautious conclusions. The election was "routine" because the earlier polarizing issues of Pancasila democracy had already been firmly resolved to the government's advantage. Since the stakes seemed even lower than in previous elections, there was a lack of political passion on all sides. The decline in the Golkar percentage may be partially attributed to ABRI's distancing itself from active intervention on behalf of Golkar as a sign that it should not be taken for granted. It did not appear that Suharto's campaign to woo the Muslims had an appreciable electoral result. The PDI apparently won the largest number of first-time voters. Its rallies attracted a youthful crowd, many under voting age, and suggested that a basis did exist for future increases in voter support. Golkar won slightly more than 61 percent of the total number of votes cast on Java, where nearly two-thirds of the voters resided. That meant that about four out of ten voters at the country's core were in opposition. Nevertheless, that Golkar increased its vote in Jakarta by 4 percent over 1987 despite an aggressive PDI campaign directed at the urban crowd, suggested that Golkar's appeal to stability, security, and development--the political status quo--was powerful even without other electoral advantages of the ruling party.

More about the Government and Politics of Indonesia.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress