Government and Politics

Indonesia Table of Contents

AFTER 1965 AND THE DESTRUCTION of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI; for this and other acronyms, see table A), the military dominated Indonesian politics. By exploiting existing constitutional structures and mobilizing civilian political support through a quasipolitical party of functional groups (Golkar), Indonesia's leaders concentrated power and authority in a small military and bureaucratic elite. At the elite's head was President Suharto, a former army general who was instrumental in the forcible termination of the Guided Democracy of his predecessor, Sukarno. To emphasize the discontinuity with the failed and discredited policies of the Sukarno era--what the new regime called the Old Order--Suharto's government called itself the New Order. The policy priority of the New Order was economic development based on security, stability, and consensus. Although only a handful of top leaders in the 1980s and early 1990s participated in the New Order decision-making process, pressure for greater access by nonofficially recognized interests and even opposition parties defined the contemporary political debate. The New Order appeared in the early 1990s to have the broad support of a majority of Indonesians. Its legitimacy rested not only on real economic development but also in appeals to traditional values including, but not limited to, the Javanese values with which Suharto himself was imbued.

In 1992 Indonesia was a unitary state with a highly centralized governmental administration. This centralization was seen by Indonesia's leaders as necessary in a fragmented geographical and highly plural ethnic setting with a history of regional and ethnic rebellion. Problems of integration remained in East Timor (Timor Timur Province), Irian Jaya Province, and to a lesser extent the Special Region of Aceh. After independence was declared in 1945, ideological consensus had been sought through the vigorous propagation of a national ideology called the Pancasila: belief in one Supreme God, humanitarianism, nationalism, democracy, and social justice. The government claimed the exclusive right to give content to these broad general principles, and by law all organizations were required to have the Pancasila as a common organizing principle, a single national commitment that took precedence over their individual programs.

The post-1965 political party system was simplified with the institution of Golongan Karya, or Golkar, the de facto government party organized around functional groups in society. Golkar vied in quinquennial elections with the United Development Party (PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), themselves coalitions of formerly competitive parties. Because of a built-in advantage of massive government support and highly restrictive campaign rules, Golkar had emerged victorious in all national elections since 1971. The two constitutional legislative bodies, dominated by Golkar and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia (ABRI), were often little more than rubber stamps for government policy in a strong presidential system. The latitude of action the government enjoyed also was enhanced by a judicial system in which the rule of law often seemed bent to the will of the government. Moreover, the media in the early 1990s were enmeshed in a web of formal and informal controls that made them relatively ineffective as a check on government.

By 1992 Suharto had been inaugurated five times as president, and a central political question since his fourth term had been that of succession. The succession issue could be resolved only with interplay among the leading political forces and institutions: ABRI, the bureaucracy, Islam, business groups, and the presidency--but, as of late 1992, a sixth term for Suharto seemed likely to many observers who instead watched more avidly the selection of a vice president. With the exception of the presidency, none of these groups or institutions was monolithic. They all had factions, dividing not only on issues of interest but also on religion, race, and ethnicity. Issues of interest included economic equity, corruption, the role of ABRI in society, environmental concerns, and democratization.

Foreign policy was not a significant issue in domestic politics. Although there was bureaucratic infighting in the New Order era over foreign policy on a range of issues--including normalization of relations with China, policy toward Vietnam's incursion into Cambodia, and handling of the East Timor problem-- the president's word was final. In a break with Sukarno's confrontational foreign policy, Suharto's government restored Indonesia's international image as a peaceful and cooperative member of the international community. A founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia was an important actor in ASEAN's diplomacy ending the Third Indochina War (1978-91). In the 1980s, Indonesia began to project a more assertive presence in the international arena corresponding to its huge population, natural resources, economic success, and growing nationalism. This was capped by Suharto's succession in 1992 to the chairmanship of the Nonaligned Movement. Indonesia's international image continued to suffer, however, from international criticism of its human rights record, particularly its suppression of an independence movement in East Timor.


For more information about the government, see Facts about Indonesia.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress