Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Decline of the Hegemonic Party System in Indonesia: Golkar after the Fall of Soeharto

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Decline of the Hegemonic Party System in Indonesia: Golkar after the Fall of Soeharto

Article excerpt

Golkar, or Golongan Karya (Functional Group) was the "state party" during the Soeharto era (1966-98). It dominated Indonesian politics, making the political system a "hegemonic party system". Two other parties, namely the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, Development Unity Party) and the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (PDI, Indonesian Democratic Party), were forced to accept a minor role. The strength of Golkar was overwhelming and there was no opportunity for "opposition parties" to share power, let alone assume power. The hegemonic party system in Indonesia lasted for about 27 years (1971-98) until it was eventually replaced by a multi-party system. After the fall of Soeharto, Golkar remained the largest political party following the 2004 elections, even though it gained only 21 per cent of the vote. However, it is no longer a hegemonic party, as other parties have emerged and share power with Golkar. This paper examines the end of the hegemonic party system and the rise of pluralism in Indonesian politics, how Golkar has managed to survive, its evolution from a Javanese dominated organization to an ethnically pluralistic party, its current leadership, its relationships with other political parties and its performances in the 1999 and 2004 elections. The problems and prospects of Golkar are also discussed. (1)

Golkar and the Origin of the Hegemonic Party System

After a short experiment with parliamentary democracy (1949-57), President Sukarno introduced Guided Democracy (1959-65), which set the stage for the hegemonic party system. During the Sukarno era, political parties, with the exception of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI, Indonesian Communist Party), did not function. In the semi-authoritarian political system dominated by Sukarno, the army and the PKI were "extra-parliamentary forces" during the parliamentary period. However, after the abortive coup of 1965, the PKI was eliminated, followed by Sukarno a few months later, leaving the Indonesian army, led by Major-General Soeharto, as the only significant political force.

Soeharto had no wish to rule Indonesia as a direct military regime as he wanted to legitimize his rule. He adopted various measures to achieve political legitimacy, including the introduction of elections and measures to develop the battered Indonesian economy while controlling the government at the same time. Regular elections were important tools. Not surprisingly, Soeharto designed a political system that he could control. Golkar, formed in 1964, was originally a loose alliance of various right-wing organizations and army-sponsored groups, and was transformed into a new electoral machine by the Soeharto regime. But Golkar was more than an electoral machine. It was dominated by the military and the abangan Javanese (2) rather than the santri. It was secular rather than Islamic. It represented only one type of political culture, but had an enormous impact on Indonesian politics.

Prior to the 1971 election, the Soeharto government ensured that legislative arrangements, such as the elections bill and political parties bill, were revised to guarantee government control. General elections were held in 1971 (for only the second time since 1955), with Golkar emerging as the largest party. The Muslim parties, which had 43 per cent of the combined votes in 1955, only obtained 29 per cent. The Nationalist Party, which had been the largest party in 1955 (but not a dominant party), was relegated to the status of a minor party, as all government servants and non-Islamic groups were "persuaded" to vote for Golkar.

Golkar's strategy for winning elections is interesting. Golkar was transformed into a de facto "state party" as it consisted of three components, namely the bureaucracy, military and non-civil servants. (3) The structure was akin to a command system, ranging from the national level up to the provincial levels. All civil servants had to pledge their loyalty to Golkar. …

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