Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Paradox of Indonesian Democracy

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Paradox of Indonesian Democracy

Article excerpt


On 5 April 2004 Indonesia held its second democratic general election in the post-Soeharto era, inaugurating what will be the first leg of a series of elections utilizing a new system, which most Indonesians hope will breathe new life and stimulate change in a political structure deemed by many to be ineffectual as the promising advent of reformasi in 1998 gave way to the troubling reality of democratic consolidation, giving rise to prophecies of doom by security analysts speculating whether the Indonesian state could survive. (1) The proposition that democracy is an unattainable goal in multi-ethnic states, particularly in linguistically divided countries, is not new. (2) Similarly, there are those who point to the hypothesized link between the level of socio-economic development and stable democracy, making the case that democracy cannot thrive in an environment characterized by widespread poverty and illiteracy. (3) Likewise, many security analysts would be hard-pressed to explain the puzzling contradiction between Indonesia's high level of political violence since 1998 and its success at sustaining a democratic political system. Indeed the Indonesian paradox is explained better using the assumption that democracy is possible in deeply divided societies if the type of democracy practiced is consociational, (4) defined by Lijphart to consist of the following characteristics:

* grand coalition governments that include representatives of all major linguistic and religious groups;

* cultural autonomy for these groups;

* proportionality in political representation and civil service appointments; and

* a minority veto with regard to vital minority rights and autonomy. (5)

While the Indonesian case is by no means perfect, the practice of reformasi since the fall of the Soeharto regime has exhibited the above characteristics in varying forms through the power-sharing arrangements that constituted the Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati governments respectively. Moreover, there has been significantly a plethora of legislation on decentralization in 2001, that have been moderating a unitary system of government that was asymmetrical in favour of Jakarta, consequently empowering local initiative at the district (kabupaten) level. Indeed in analysing the 2004 general elections and the coalition building process leading up to the presidential elections, the major premise in this article is that the consociational dimensions of post-Soeharto Indonesian politics have contributed significantly to the consolidation of democracy in Indonesia.

At the apex of the political structure is a national political elite committed to reconciling differences through bargaining between themselves. Through the combination and political dominance of the four socio-political forces that constitute Indonesian politics, namely Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan, PDI-P), Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah and the inclusive nature of their politics, grand coalition cabinets with ministers belonging to all main religious, linguistic, and regional groups have become the norm and such inter-aliran (6) power-sharing arrangements coupled with prudent constructive leadership will ensure a political system that provides for widespread diffusion of power, significantly enhancing stability. (7)

Election System

The management of the 2004 elections proved to be a daunting prospect for the General Election Commission (KPU, Komisi Pemilihan Umum): two or even three elections will be held between 5 April and 20 September 2004. With less than a year since the passage of the election laws on 8-9 July 2003, voters, election administrators and political parties have had to grapple with immense changes relating to the new frameworks for representation coupled with new structures for election administration. (8) The election framework is governed by conditions mandated by the Indonesian Constitution amended in 2001 and supported through a plethora of laws relating to political parties, the general elections, the presidential elections and the Constitutional Court. …

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