Political Parties

Indonesia Table of Contents

The Multiparty System

ABRI viewed the pre-1967 multiparty system as unsatisfactory. The army had been an ally of Sukarno in the emasculation of competitive party politics under Guided Democracy. In a regime in which consensus and mobilization of human and material resources for development had the highest priority, partisan politics was viewed as divisive and wasteful. Yet the parties, with the notable exception of Masyumi and the PKI, had made the transition from the Old Order to the New Order and expected to play an expanded role. The Muslim political parties, in particular, felt they should be rewarded for enthusiastic participation in crushing the PKI and alleged communist sympathizers in 1965. The civilians who had thronged to alliance with ABRI under the banners of various anti-Sukarno action groups also felt they had earned an autonomous stake in building Indonesia's future. The problem for ABRI was how to subordinate the political party system to the needs of unity, stability, and development (and implicit ABRI control). The answer was to establish a political structure that would be fully responsive to the interests and agenda of ABRI and the government. It needed to be a structure that would compete in elections with the regular political parties but, as an expression of Pancasila democracy, it would not be a political party in the usual sense of aggregating and articulating interests from below.

Political party competition in Pancasila democracy in late twentieth-century Indonesia was conceived of in terms of advancing the best programs and leaders to achieve the national goals. Opposition politics based on ideological competition or appeal to partisan interests growing out of social, ethnic, or economic cleavages had no place and, in fact, was defined as subversive. In Suharto's words, the adoption of the Pancasila by the parties "will facilitate the prevention of conflict among various political groups which in their efforts to attain their respective goals may cause clashes detrimental to national unity and integrity." In 1973, in order to guarantee that disruptive competition would not occur, the political party system was restructured and simplified by government fiat, forcing the nine existing traditional parties to regroup into two electoral coalitions. The four Muslim parties, despite their historical, ideological, sectarian, and leadership differences, were joined together in the United Development Party (PPP), and the Christian and secular parties were uneasily united in the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). The desired result was to further weaken the existing political parties. The Political Parties Bill of 1975 completed the process of reconciling the parties to the requirements of Pancasila democracy.

The PPP, PDI, and the non-party Golkar became the "three pillars" of Pancasila democracy, the only legal participants in the electoral process. Other kinds of political activity were proclaimed illegal. The parties were placed under the supervision of the Department of Home Affairs, and the president was given the power to suspend their activity. Most importantly, the 1975 law institutionalized the concept of the rural population as a "floating mass," prohibiting the parties from organizing and mobilizing at the rice-roots level between election campaigns. This gave Golkar a great advantage, because government officials from the center to the village were members of Golkar. The net effect of political party legislation was to "depoliticize" the political parties of the 1945-65 period.

From the government's point of view, political parties were not considered vital elements in a continuous critical political process but structures that would function episodically every five years in "Festivals of Democracy" designed to promote the government's legitimacy. Golkar's crushing victory in the 1971 elections put an end to any expectation that meaningful multiparty politics could be resurrected in Indonesia. By maintaining a highly disciplined party system, the government provided a limited sense of public access and participation in a political system that was, at its core, military in inspiration. More narrowly, the party system allowed for the cooptation of the civilian leaderships of the old political parties into the New Order plan in a nonthreatening way. Although the politicians may have chafed under the restrictions, they at least were part of the process. Also, the continued existence of the political parties and elections contributed to the regime's international reputation, particular after the harrowing trauma of its violent birth. Finally, parties performed a useful "feedback" function. This role was particularly true with respect to the Islamic parties grouped in PPP, who gave voice to issues close to Islamic values. For example, the 1973 Marriage Bill as originally drafted would have legalized all civil marriages. However, due to Islamic concerns the law was eventually amended to legitimate marriages made according to the laws of respective religions. Still, the government did not always heed the alarm raised by Islamic outrage. Football pools (known as porkas from the English "forecast") were introduced in December 1985 to support national sports programs; the porkas were denounced by Muslims as a violation of the Islamic law against gambling. The opponents of porkas added a social dimension to the criticism by pointing out that the players were those Indonesians who could least afford to gamble. Unmoved by the opposition, the government allowed the lottery to continue as of 1992.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress