by Jürgen Rüland *
Since its independence in 1945, Indonesia has been most of the time under authoritarian rule. Under President Suharto (1967-1998) parliamentary elections were held regularly, but did scarcely contribute to a democracy, as they were tainted by electoral fraud and limited party pluralism. When Suharto's regime collapsed in May 1998, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, a liberalization process was initiated; it culminated in free and fair parliamentary elections in June 1999.
The Indonesian declaration of independence (merdeka), issued on 17 August 1945, put an end to more than 300 years of Dutch colonial rule and to a three-year occupation by Japanese forces during World War II. Dutch attempts to restore their colonial empire after the Japanese capitulation encountered armed resistance by the Indonesian Republic. Although two major Dutch military offensives pushed the nationalists to the brink of defeat, the pressure exerted both by the USA and the United Nations on The Hague finally led to the Dutch withdrawal in late 1949.
Apart from the struggle against the common enemy, Indonesians were deeply divided. The more moderate leaders forming the government were opposed by the communists and radical youth groups, who rejected any accommodation with the Dutch. The internal divisions explain the deviations from the constitutional framework during the revolutionary period. Although the 1945 Constitution established a strong presidential system, shifting power relations soon forced President Sukarno to hand over day-to-day government to a Prime Minister, a position not provided for in the Constitution.
The 1949 Federal Constitution established a union between the Dutch-controlled regions in the outer islands and the territory held by the