The legal basis of the Indonesian state is the 1945 constitution, which was amended four times between 1999 and 2002.. The original Constitution was established four years before Indonesia became independent in 1949. It was drafted July to August 1945, and became effective on August 17, 1945. It was abrogated by 1949 and 1950 constitutions. The 1945 constitution was restored July 5, 1959. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

After an election in 1955 a committee called the Konstituante was established to draft a new Constitution. Some Muslim groups pushed for having Islam made the state religion. Nationalists and Communists opposed the move. A tense situation was resolved when Sukarno disbanded the Konstituante a decreed a return to the 1945 Constitution. Suharto said everything he did was done to the letter of the Constitution. He mentioned the Constitution in almost every speech. In the early 2000s, after Suharto was ousted, the Constitution was amended. Five new political laws were enacted, a new system of checks and balances was created and several new institutions were created.

The original constitution was essentially a temporary instrument hurriedly crafted by the Independence Preparatory Committee in the last months before the Japanese surrender. According to George McTurnan Kahin, whose 1952 book Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia was the pioneering study of modern Indonesian politics, the constitution was considered “definitely provisional.” Provisional or not, the constitution provided structural continuity in a period of political discontinuity after 1998. Beginning with the preamble, which invokes the principles of the Pancasila, the 37 articles of the constitution set forth the boundaries of both Sukarno’s Old Order and Suharto’s New Order. Amendment of the 1945 constitution was one of the principal demands of the student movement that forced Suharto to resign in 1998, and as of 2009 was one of the few of those demands that had been largely fulfilled. Four amendments eliminated many ambiguities and transformed the constitution into a more democratic framework, with extensive separation of powers and checks and balances.

Early History of the Constitution of Indonesia

The Japanese efforts to establish an independent Indonesian state encouraged the writing of the 1945 constitution, which was very soon temporarily put aside and had not been fully implemented when the transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands took place on December 27, 1949. The 1949 agreement called for the establishment of the Federal Republic of Indonesia (RIS). Subsequently, a provisional constitution adopted in February 1950 provided for the election of a constituent assembly to write a permanent constitution. A rising tide of more radical nationalism, driven partly by perceptions that the RIS was a Dutch scheme to divide and reconquer their former colony, rapidly moved political leaders in the direction of a unitary republic. The Committee for the Preparation of the Constitution of the Unitary State was established on May 19, 1950, and on August 14 a new constitution (technically an amendment to the RIS constitution) was ratified, to be in force until an elected constituent assembly completed its work. The new, interim constitution provided for a parliamentary system of government, in which the cabinet and the prime minister were responsible to a unicameral legislature. The president was to be head of state but without real executive power except as a catalyst in forming a cabinet. [Source: Library of Congress *]

As the political parties wrestled ineffectually in the parliamentary forum, dissident ethnic politicians and army officers joined in resisting central authority and even engaged in armed rebellions in various provinces between 1949 and 1962. Sukarno assumed an extra-constitutional position from which he wielded paramount authority in imposing his more defined concept of Guided Democracy in 1959. This move was backed by the senior military leaders whose revolutionary experiences had already made them suspicious, even contemptuous, of civilian politicians, and who were now dismayed by the disintegrative forces at work in the nation. The military moved to the political forefront, where it remained until 1998. *

Sukarno sought to legitimize his authority by returning to the 1945 constitution. He would have preferred to accomplish this goal constitutionally by having the 402-member Constituent Assembly formally adopt the 1945 constitution. However, the Constituent Assembly, elected in 1955 and divided along secular and religious lines, could not muster the required two-thirds majority necessary to approve new constitutional provisions. According to political scientist Daniel S. Lev, the body deadlocked on two fundamental issues: the role of Islam in the state and the question of federalism. Furthermore, division on these issues meant that ideological consensus among the anticommunist parties could not be translated into effective political cooperation. As long as the Constituent Assembly failed to agree on a new constitutional form, the interim constitution with its weak presidency continued in force. Backed by the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) and a large part of the public, which was impatient with the political impasse and the government’s failure to implement the promises of independence, on July 5, 1959, Sukarno decreed the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and a return to the 1945 constitution. Martial law had already been proclaimed on March 14, 1957, and Sukarno claimed that under martial law his legal authority stemmed from his position as supreme commander of the TNI.

Government Created by the Indonesian Constitution

The original 1945 constitution proved to be extremely elastic as a provisional legal framework for a modern state, subject to broad interpretation depending upon the constellation of political forces in control at any given time. Other than outlining the major state structures, the document contained few specifics about relations between citizens and the government and left open basic questions about rights and responsibilities of citizen and state. For example, Article 28 states that “The freedom to associate and to assemble, to express written and oral opinions, etc., shall be established by law.” Subsequent laws, however, did not fully recognize the fundamental rights of the individual citizen stipulated by the constitution. These rights have now been enshrined and further delineated in a new chapter on human rights immediately following the original Article 28—Articles 28A to 28J, approved in 2000. However, the 1945 document also is an expression of revolutionary expectations about social and economic justice. The original Article 33 states that the economy shall be organized cooperatively, that important branches of production affecting the lives of most people shall be controlled by the state, and that the state shall control natural resources for exploitation for the general welfare of the people. An additional clause introduced in 2002 now states that the national “economic democracy” shall be organized on the basis of such principles as togetherness, efficiency, justice, sustainability, environmental perspectives, self- sufficiency, and balance.

The political struggle from 1945 to 1959 over the constitutional framework of the state stemmed not from the ambiguities of the 1945 document nor its heavy weighting of executive power, but over deep disagreements about the nature of the state itself, particularly the issues of federalism and the role of Islam. Once the common battle against Dutch imperialism had been won, the passionate differences dividing various nationalist groups about the future of Indonesia surfaced. The possibility of a federation of loosely knit regions was denied by the use of force, first in crushing the Republic of South Maluku (RMS) in 1950, then in suppressing the Darul Islam insurgencies in Jawa Barat, Aceh, and Sulawesi Selatan between 1949 and 1962, and finally in defeating the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) and the Universal Struggle Charter (Permesta) regional rebellions of 1957 to 1961. In subsequent decades, the central government was always sensitive to the issue of separatism, and the existence of a unitary republic, expressed through a primary “Indonesian” national identity, seemed secure. The difficulty of integrating an Islamic political identity with the Indonesian Pancasila identity was no longer of primary importance by the late 1990s and, although hotly debated at times, was never a major stumbling block in the constitutional-amendment process from 1999 to 2002.

The original 1945 constitution established a presidential system with significant parliamentary characteristics, whereas the amended constitution establishes a pure presidential system with extensive separation of powers and checks and balances. Sovereignty in Indonesia is vested in the people, who exercise their will through six organs of state of roughly equal stature. The president and vice president lead the executive branch and are chosen as a team through direct, popular elections; the president is both head of state and head of government (see fig. 11). Legislative power is vested in the People’s Representative Council (DPR) and the new but less powerful upper house, the Regional Representative Council (DPD). Although the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) is now no more than a joint sitting of the DPR and DPD, it retains separate powers that have been restricted to swearing in the president and vice president, amending the constitution, and having final say in the impeachment process. At the apex of the judicial system are the Supreme Court and the new Constitutional Court, whose powers include reviewing the constitutionality of laws, reaching a verdict on articles of impeachment, resolving disputes among state institutions, dissolving political parties, and resolving electoral disputes. Significant decentralization of power to subnational authorities has also been enshrined and delineated in the amended constitution.

Indonesian Government Budget

Budget: revenues: $137.5 billion, expenditures: $166 billion (2013 est.); Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-): -3.3 percent of GDP (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 133. Public debt: 24.2 percent of GDP (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 129l 23 percent of GDP (2012 est.). Fiscal year: calendar year. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Five-year development plans (Repelita) were an important tool in economic planning beginning in the 1960s. These plans offered broad guidelines and set general priorities. The emphasis was on rehabilitation in Repelita I (1969–73), but it then shifted to increasing productivity in agriculture and improving infrastructure in particular during the 1970s. After the drop in oil prices in the early and mid-1980s, consecutive Repelitas stressed industrialization and export promotion. By the time of Repelita V (1989–93), the main objectives included continued export diversification and reduced reliance on foreign aid. The 1980s and early 1990s also saw increasing attention given to social development issues, such as education, health, and family planning. Repelita VI (1994–98) stressed the expansion of manufacturing and set growth targets that were overtaken by actual developments on the eve of the 1997–98 financial crisis. The government abandoned conventional Repelitas in the wake of the crisis and thereafter replaced them with national medium-term development plans (NMDPs), also set out in five-year increments. The main objectives of the 2004–9 NMDP included a sharp reduction in poverty and registered unemployment and an average annual rate of growth of 6.6 percent. [Library of Congress *]

The Repelitas served as general indicators of the direction of government policy rather than concrete priorities (the latter being provided by the annual budget of the central government). Indonesia traditionally had a fiscal year that ran from April 1 to March 31, with the national government’s draft budget for a particular year usually submitted to the People’s Representative Council (DPR) in January, only months before the budget was to become effective. Beginning in 2000, the fiscal year coincided with the calendar year, with the budget now sent to the DPR at mid-year. As a consequence, the budget for 2000 covered only nine months. Public spending historically was divided into two broad categories, routine and development expenditures. Routine expenditures included the salaries of civil servants and most spending on materials, operations, and maintenance, whereas development expenditures consisted of project-related spending in areas such as investment, research, and training. Over time, however, the line dividing the two categories became somewhat arbitrary in practice. Starting with the FY 2005 budget, the distinction between routine and development expenditure was abandoned entirely and replaced by a classification system recommended by the IMF that differentiated more carefully between current and capital outlays and among levels of government authority. The distinction between spending by the central government and that by regional governments has become ever more important since the decentralization reforms that followed the collapse of the New Order government. *

Since the 1980s, the total government budget has been rather stable, about or slightly less than 20 percent of GDP. In 2003 total government expenditures amounted to Rp371 trillion (US$43.2 billion), or 19.1 percent of GDP, against a total revenue of Rp336 trillion (US$39.2 billion), or 17.3 percent of GDP. The resulting deficit corresponded to 1.8 percent of GDP. The 2009 budget envisaged government revenue at 21.2 percent of GDP and government expenditure at 23.4 percent of GDP. Deficit spending has been the exception rather than the rule in Indonesian government finance since the late 1960s. Fiscal prudence and rapid economic growth resulted in balanced budgets throughout the 1980s and early and mid-1990s. Even the initial draft budget for the crisis year 1998–99, prepared in mid-1997, included projection of a small surplus, which proved entirely unrealistic. Combating crisis and staging economic recovery necessitated deficit spending by the central government starting in 1998. The budget deficit rose to 6.8 percent of GDP in FY 1999 (12 months) and was 5 percent of GDP in FY 2000 (nine months). It then fell gradually, reaching 2.5 percent in FY 2002 and creeping below 1 percent in FY 2005 and FY 2006. The budget for FY 2008 displayed a deficit of Rp73 trillion (US$8.1 billion) corresponding to 1.7 percent of GDP, whereas the one agreed for FY 2009 showed a slightly higher deficit at 2.2 percent of GDP.*

Head of the Indonesian Government: The President

President is both the chief of state and head of government. The president and vice president are elected for five-year terms by direct vote and are eligible for a second term. The 1945 constitution was amended in 1999–2002 to make the once powerful, party-centered presidency subject to popular election and limited to two five-year terms. The president and vice president are elected on single ticket, usually representing a coalition of parties. Winning tickets must gain more than 60 percent of popular vote in the first round of voting and at least 20 percent of vote in half of provinces. If percentages not met, second-round runoff election held. The Cabinet is appointed by the president. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In the 2004, Indonesians for the first time chose their president through direct elections. Several candidates are allowed to run. The elections were made possible by parliament legislation passed in July 2003. Before that the president and vice president were chosen by a vote of 50 percent plus one within Parliament several months after the Parliamentary elections. The vice presidency has traditionally been a largely ceremonial position with no real power. In the 2004 election, the president and the vice president were chosen together on a ticket as is the case un the United States. Before that the vice president was chosen by president and approved by the parliament. According to the constitution the vice president becomes president if the president dies in office.

The Indonesian Presidency is no a very desirable job. According to one survey, only 0.4 percent of children said they would like to be president. One analyst told Reuters, “Given the administrative and political realities of Indonesia, no matter who is president they can’t do very much. There is a risk that if a popular leader doesn’t perform it could discredit the whole democratic system.”

Recent Presidents of Indonesia

Former President: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004 to 2014); Vice President Boediono (2009-2014), In presidential election held in July 2009 Yudhoyono won with 60.8 percent, of the vote; Megawati Sukarnoputri took 26.8 percent; and Jusuf Kalla had 12.4 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Between 1945 and 2009, Indonesia had six presidents: Sukarno (1945–67), Suharto (1967–98), Bacharuddin J. (B. J.) Habibie (1998– 99), Abdurrahman Wahid (1999–2001; also known as Gus Dur), Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001–4; Sukarnoputri means “daughter of Sukarno”; it is not a family name), and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (since 2004; often referred to as SBY). Indonesians tend like leaders surrounded by a personality cult. That was certainly the case with Sukarno and to a lesser extent, and in a quiet, mellow way, with Suharto. Megawati is Sukarno’s daughter.

When Suharto was forced to resign on May 21, 1998, Vice President Habibie became president and immediately announced a package of political reforms that included new legislative elections in June 1999. Although Megawati’s Indonesian Democracy Party–Struggle (PDI–P) won a plurality in those elections, she was defeated in the MPR vote for president in October 1999 by Wahid when Habibie withdrew his candidacy following a vote of no confidence. The MPR then elected Megawati as Wahid’s vice president. Two years later, the MPR removed Wahid from office following allegations of corruption and incompetence, and Megawati became president. Yudhoyono and vice presidential candidate Muhammad Yusuf Kalla defeated Megawati and three other tickets in Indonesia’s first direct presidential elections in July and September 2004. Yudhoyono was reelected, this time running with Bank Indonesia governor Budiono, in one round in July 2009. [Source: Library of Congress]

Perks and Duties of the Indonesian President

The official residence of the President is Istana Merdeka, a 19th-century palace in Jakarta from the colonial era. Yudhoyono lived in his private residence not Istana Merdeka, which is considered haunted. Only two presidents, Sukarno from 1945-1965 and Abdurrahman Wahid from 1999-2001, made the palace their residence. Eric Ellis wrote in The Times, “The cloistered sanctuary of Jakarta’s presidential palace, Istana Merdeka, is far removed from the clamorous Indonesian capital outside. The Dutch colonial buildings are white and splendid, the manicured lawns a revelation after the polluted chaos of the teeming city only a few metres beyond the polished gates. [Source: Eric Ellis, The Times, November 8, 2004]

The President’s license plate reads: Indonesia 1. The Vice President’s license plate reads: Indonesia 2. The salary for the president in 1999 was around $5,000 a month.

During the swearing in process, the new president takes the oath of office and vows to uphold the constitution while a Koran is placed over the president’s head. The president gives an annual "accountability speech" that is the Indonesian equivalent of a State of the Union speech except the speech is put to a vote by the parliament. A rejection of the speech by President Habibie by Parliament spelled Habibie's doom.

Power and Politics of the Indonesian President

Indonesia’s government is a strong presidential system with, since 2004, significant checks and balances by the legislative and judicial branches as well as by local authorities. The president and vice president are directly elected as a ticket for a five-year term in a two-round system; if no ticket wins a simple majority in the first round, the two tickets that received the most votes advance to the second round. The winning presidential ticket must gain at least 20 percent of the vote in half of the provinces. A president is limited to two terms in office. The only qualifications for office provided in the constitution are that the president be a native-born Indonesian citizen, never have acquired another citizenship, never have committed treason, and be “spiritually and physically capable” of the office. Although the DPR is vested with primary legislative power, the president has de facto veto power over any legislation, with no possibility of override by the DPR. The president serves as the supreme commander of the armed forces. The president appoints cabinet members, with no requirement for legislative confirmation.

Although the vice president is elected on a ticket with the president, the question of their relationship is a political issue. This is in part because the level of political pluralism forces parties and candidates to form coalitions: in 2004 Yudhoyono, from the Democrat Party (PD), chose Kalla to obtain support from the much larger, better organized, and wealthier Golkar Party. This dynamic became even more pronounced two months after they were inaugurated, when Kalla was elected Golkar chairman at its party congress. During their administration, Kalla was wont on occasion to take a different stance than Yudhoyono on certain issues. Although privately Yudhoyono sometimes admonished Kalla for this behavior, in public he insisted that they remained a solid team. Nonetheless, in early 2009 Yudhoyono began to distance himself from Kalla, signaling his intention to choose a different running mate. Following the April 2009 legislative elections, Yudhoyono surprised many by bucking the logic of party coalitions when he chose the technocratic, nonpartisan central banker Budiono as his vice presidential candidate; nonetheless, they were easily elected with 60.8 percent of the vote. Kalla was unsuccessful in forming a ticket with Megawati, and instead ran with retired General Wiranto, coming in a distant third place with 12 percent. Megawati and retired Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, Suharto’s former son-in-law, placed second with 27 percent.

Indonesian President an ‘Infidel’? The Vice President Poisoned?

In 2011, Elizabeth Flock wrote in the Washington Post, “A cleric who is being tried for an alleged series of terrorist activities called the Indonesian president an “infidel” during a hearing. The cleric said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely known by his initials SBY, is an unbeliever because of his “failure to hold up the true law under Islam,” Indonesian English-language newspaper the Jakarta Post reported. SBY is a popular president in his second term, and a Muslim. The rabble-rousing cleric, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, also said all Indonesian leaders were evil, but that Islam had been especially slandered under SBY’s presidency. The Indonesian Twittersphere immediately reacted to the cleric’s accusation, using the words‘SBY Kafir’ to talk about it, which translates to ‘SBY infidel.’ Most tweets from Indonesia were words in support of the president, clarifying that he is not “kafir”: [Source: Elizabeth Flock, Washington Post, April 25, 2011]

In 2004, Reuters reported: “Vigilant security officers have found a substance suspected to be arsenic in soup that was to be served to Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, police said. Antonius Reniban, chief police spokesman in Bali, said the soup had been prepared for Kalla while he was attending an event in Bali for the powerful Golkar party, whose chairmanship he will seek. "We suspect it contains arsenic. The vice president's (security) team found it," said Reniban. "The first finding indicated it contains 0.1 milligrams of that substance per litre. We do not know if it is accurate and whether it is deadly or not," he said. He said the substance was detected in the soto, a traditional Indonesian soup. [Source: Reuters, December 16, 2004]

Dino Patti Djalal, a spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said while he could not confirm the incident, checking food prepared for the president and his deputy was standard procedure. It is the second case of suspected arsenic poisoning in Indonesia in recent months, following the death of a prominent human rights activist on a flight to Amsterdam in three months earlier.

Members of Golkar, Indonesia's most powerful party in parliament, gathered to elect a new leader at a luxury Bali hotel that could make life easier in the legislature for Yudhoyono if Kalla wins.The two strongest candidates include the incumbent and favourite, Akbar Tandjung, and Kalla, who joined forces with Yudhoyono ahead of presidential elections earlier this year despite loud protests from within Golkar.A win for Kalla could turn Golkar, once the political vehicle of ousted autocrat Suharto, into an ally for Yudhoyono.

Indonesian Cabinet

The president appoints and is assisted by a cabinet of ministers. In October 2009, Yudhoyono named his second “United Indonesia” cabinet, with 34 ministers representing six parties (the five that formed the nominating coalition for his presidential ticket plus Golkar). Twenty departments were headed by ministers, and these departments were grouped under three coordinating ministers: political, legal, and security affairs; economic affairs; and people’s welfare. The state secretary, who supports the president’s role as head of state, also was a minister. There were 10 ministers of state, that is, ministers with portfolios but without full departments. Yudhoyono also revived the use of vice ministers, a practice allowed by law since 2008, appointing 11 to ministries with particularly heavy workloads. Most of these vice ministers were career bureaucrats rather than partisan or retired military appointees. In addition to the ministers, two high-ranking state officials were accorded cabinet rank: the attorney general and the cabinet secretary.

Specialized agencies and boards at the central government level are numerous and diverse. They include the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), the National Family Planning Coordinating Agency (BKKBN), the Capital Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), and the Agency for the Study and Application of Technology (BPPT). At lower levels there are regional planning agencies, investment boards, and development banks under the aegis of the central government.

Article 16 of the amended constitution authorizes the president to establish an advisory council, and a law passed in 2006 further specifies this provision. Yudhoyono established the nine-member Presidential Advisory Council in 2007, but in 2009 this body was still trying to determine what its role would be in relation to the cabinet and the advisers in the office of the president. The larger Supreme Advisory Council was abolished in 2002 by the Fourth Amendment.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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