Dec 16, 2018 Last Updated 7:39 AM, Dec 10, 2018

Ballot ballet

Published: Sep 22, 2007

In May 1999 Indonesians take part in the first democratic elections in over forty years. How will they be run?


Kevin Evans

One of the first tasks President Habibie set for his administration was to revise Indonesia's political machinery. This includes revising three of the five political laws of 1985 (the pinnacle of Suharto's integralist vision for the state), as well as laws on the presidency, local authorities, government ethics and national security.

Government drafts of the laws governing political parties, elections and the legislature were being prepared for submission to parliament by early August. The public response to these draft laws will give an early indication of how far the Habibie administration is believed willing to push for substantive reform of the political system.

Among the proposed changes three are core.


First, a 'district' system of single member constituencies will replace the current 'proportional' system. Instead of being chosen by votes based on each province as a multimember regional block, as now, each member will be chosen only on the basis of votes in a single district, as in Australia's Lower House. The system will deliver 420 elected members to the national parliament (DPR), and others to the provincial and local DPRs.

There will be some exceptions. Abri wants to be given 10% of all seats at each level. Also, district members in the national DPR will be joined by some 75 other members elected on the basis of a single national 'district'. These extra parliamentarians will be chosen by consolidating losing party votes from each district into a national tally and dealing them out.

The purpose of incorporating a modified version of a proportional system is to overcome the 'winner take all' outcome of the district system. Parties which may have significant support nationally but insufficient in each district will be able to secure representation in the house.

There remains some opposition to adopting a district system, including the usual old lines about 'Indonesia is not ready for this sort of change' to 'this will encourage money politics in Indonesia'! The Indonesian Academy of Sciences (Lipi), one of the think tanks producing reform plans, and particularly the armed forces (Abri), remain somewhat unsure of moving to a district system.

A mixed system blending districts with proportionality is the most popular form of electoral reform around the world this past decade. Countries from New Zealand to Tunisia, and most in East Asia which have reformed their electoral system, have moved to a mixed pattern, with each adopting various modes of voting and percentages to be elected under each system.

Electoral commission

Second, the new General Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum - KPU) will be independent. It will contain representatives from government, but also from the political parties eligible to join in the elections. Members of the community agreed to jointly by the first two groups will also be there. The commission chair need not be a government representative.

Provincial and local KPUs will also be established. Provincial KPUs will be permanent and independent of government.

The national KPU will propose the boundaries of district seats for the national DPR. In general, these will correspond with local authority boundaries. However, heavily populated local authority areas will have more than one district. Those with over 900,000 will gain two seats, 1,500,000 will gain three seats, 2,100,000 will gain four seats and so on. For example the regency of Bogor with about four million persons will be divided into seven separate districts.


Third, political parties may be freely established, providing they abide by the national ideology Pancasila. Should they wish to incorporate other ideological/ philosophical elements, these may not be opposed to Pancasila.

Political parties will be established by notarial act lodged at the courts, not at the Department of Home Affairs. This means that any legal issues will be settled by the law, and not by the government unilaterally.

Political parties seeking to participate in general elections need to demonstrate public support. They must have a presence in over half the 27 provinces, and have a certain minimum number of local branches.

Any party seeking to enter elections for the first time will also need to demonstrate popular support with a petition of one million signatures. This proposal is somewhat controversial.

Other issues

Members of the People's Assembly (MPR), which appoints the president, will not be elected directly but will be drawn from or appointed by lower parliaments.

Every province will send three representatives, each elected by the provincial DPR from among their own number. There will be no more provincial governors representing provinces in the MPR. A newly elected national DPR will determine how many members of what social and other groups (utusan golongan) should be appointed to the MPR. Groups considered to represent these groups will be asked to select an agreed number of representatives for the MPR. The executive will no longer be responsible for appointing regional representatives and utusan golongan.

Unlike today, the leaders of the DPR and MPR will be different people.

Moreover, the elections will be held on a holiday. Consequently people will be able to vote from home. This is generally considered to lead to less coercion to support particular parties than is the case when people have to vote at work.

Members of the armed forces may not vote, seek election or join a political party. Public servants may vote but may not join political parties or seek election. To do so will mean dismissal. The intent behind this provision is to encourage the emergence of a more professional, less politicised, bureaucracy.

There will also be strong measures to contain the commercialisation of political parties. Personal and corporate campaign donations will be subject to rigorous restrictions, and regular public audits of political parties will be reported to the KPU. This will encourage transparency and allow the public to know the financial support base of the political parties. Political parties must be not-for-profit organisations and may not own more than 10% equity in any commercial activity.

Most of these developments are clear steps in the direction of an open, competitive and responsive political format. However, there has already been debate from the community on certain government proposals:

The armed forces will still have representation (albeit reduced) in all the parliamentary assemblies as well as in the crucial MPR; Some (although much fewer) restrictions will still apply on former followers of the communist party (PKI) and other outlawed organisations - specifically the right to be elected.

The result?

Over 40 new political parties have made themselves known in recent weeks. This has become a source of great fear to many people in Indonesia. They are beginning to fret that the 1950s pattern will reappear, when 130+ parties contested elections, and some 26 actually gained representation in either the DPR or the Constituent Assembly of the time.

Frankly, such concerns are silly, for three reasons. Firstly, a district-based system ensures that only dominant parties are capable of winning seats. In 1955, the last time a genuinely free election was held, only four parties secured over 80% of the vote. These were the nationalist PNI (23%), the Islamic Masyumi (22%), the Islamic Nahdatul Ulama (19%) and the communist PKI (17%). The PSSI, another Islamic party, was at 3% a long way back in fifth position.

Secondly, most of the new parties are really interest groups. They will be better placed if they were to act as lobbies rather than parties. An ideal example is the Indonesian Women's Party, which could secure vastly more influence as an Indonesian Women's Electoral Movement. It could pressure the political system through lobbying, encouraging, cajoling and threatening the major parties into taking account of their interests. No doubt some of these parties will discover this in time.

Thirdly, the number of parties will diminish through a process of absorption and merger. The political system will not come to resemble the banking system - there will never be 239 political parties!

Four parties

I expect the emerging party structure to consist of four large parties, broken into two pairs of coalitions, plus a plethora of small parties most of which will ultimately be absorbed into the larger parties. I do not expect to see the emergence of a single dominant party.

The first pair of coalition partners would consist of a Megawati party and a Nahdatul Ulama (NU) type party. This would mean the combination of a pluralist nationalist party with a rural Muslim oriented party.

The second coalition partners will consist of Golkar and urbanised and educated/ activist Islam. This would combine a corporatist nationalist party with an urban based Muslim oriented party.

The existing Islamically coloured party PPP is likely to split between supporters of either of the two Muslim oriented parties, although it may organisationally move closer to the Golkar coalition partner.

The existing secular party PDI, led by Megawati until Suharto ousted her in 1996, is likely to be retaken by Megawati this year. If not, it will die and some new political vehicle will be established from elements of the PDI which desert it to join with Megawati.

Golkar will obviously have an impossible task trying to sustain a result within cooee of what it has secured in the past six elections.

Where will the votes come from for these four major parties?


Megawati party: Urban areas of Java, Sumatra, Balikpapan, Menado, plus urban and rural areas of South Sumatra, Bali, West Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara (eastern half), East Nusa Tenggara, East Timor, Irian Jaya, plus one seat in Maluku. NU related party: Rural areas in Java, also Madura and Southern Sumatra, Banjarmasin, Samarinda, rural South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara (western half). Golkar: Parts of rural Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, and perhaps in parts of the two Nusa Tenggara provinces. Icmi, Amien Rais, Muhammadiyah linked party: Urban and rural Aceh, West Sumatra, South Sulawesi, Gorontalo. It may pick up seats in urban and north coast Java (particularly western half), including South Jakarta through to Bogor.

In its most oversimplified form, the Megawati party and the modernist Muslim party will do battle for the urban and sub-urban regions while Golkar and the NU type party will battle for the rural areas. The Megawati party might also do battle with Golkar in the non-Muslim regions of eastern Indonesia and North Sumatra.

Among the possible additions to the party camps could be a Protestant and Catholic party, which could secure results in the largely Christian eastern regions especially in West Nusa Tenggara (eastern half), East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, perhaps Irian Jaya and East Timor plus in the eastern parts of North Sulawesi. Such a group is more likely to feel comfortable with the Megawati/ NU camp, but going with the Golkar/ modernist coalition can not be totally dismissed.

1 August, 1998. Kevin Evans is a Jakarta-based political economist.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

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