Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Indonesia: Chaos and Control

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Indonesia: Chaos and Control

Article excerpt

With the abrupt transition of power in Indonesia, pressure is building for elections. For too many casual observers of government, elections are equated with democracy. Simply calling for elections ignores the fact that no credible electoral system exists, or ever had existed in Indonesia.

In order to guarantee control of the legislature by the government party, the present system provides for appointed members of the central legislature and severely limits party participation.

In contrast, the first general elections that Indonesia held for parliament in 1955 were open to all and vigorously contested. Candidates from 180 parties ran in the nation's 16 electoral districts. Using the Dutch form of proportional representation, seats were allocated first in each district and then in the center where remainder votes from all districts were combined for additional seats. This central distribution added 17 parties to parliament that didn't win a single district seat. The complicated system delayed announcement of official results from the Sept. 15, 1955, election day until mid-March 1956. Despite this elaborate system designed to reflect the diversity of Indonesians, nearly 85 percent of voters cast their ballots for one of four major parties. So evenly matched were these parties, and so grounded in historical social and regional divisions, that the parliament was essentially unable to function. Consensus of these major parties was essential in order to pass any legislation at all. The Indonesians called the system suara bulat, or "round vote." It allowed parties to register disagreements in a footnote while voting for the bill. This four-way split was repeated in the provincial and national elections in1957. But regional strengths allowed some decision-making in these bodies. …

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