The Multi-Choice Elections

Oct 2008

2009 will be an important year for reformasi in Indonesia, which began in 1998 after the downfall of the dictatorial Suharto regime. On 9 April 2009, elections will be held for the Indonesian Parliament, the DPR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, People’s Representative Assembly), the DPD (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, Regional Representatives Council) and provincial assemblies. Three months later, the first round of direct elections will be held for the President and Vice-President. No fewer than 38 political parties will participate in the legislative elections. Just ten years ago, Indonesia emerged from what was in effect a one-party system.

The bicameral system of Indonesian governance is only five years old, following the creation of the DPD, first elected in 2004. The DPD is composed of four representatives from each province, all non-party independents. It has the right to make proposals and submit opinions on legislative matters and monitor the implementation of laws, but it does not yet have the revising function of second chambers in other countries such as the (unelected) House of Lords in the UK or the US Senate. There is growing unease about what some lawyers and politicians regard as the disproportionate influence of the DPR.

In September this year, agreement was reached to form a constitutional commission to consider ways of empowering the second chamber to exercise a revisionary function towards the DPR but this could take years to agree and put into practice.

MPs elected to the DPR during Indonesia’s new ten-year-old democracy are also still learning their trade as regards holding the Government to account. During the Guided Democracy period of former President Sukarno (1959-1965) and subsequently during the 32 years of dictatorial rule under Suharto, Parliament became increasingly powerless.

MPs were only allowed to rubber-stamp new laws. Serious discussions were seen as a hindrance to authoritarian rule.

As is the case under the US presidential system, members of the government are appointees of the President. In Indonesia, they are not directly answerable to parliament though they can be, and frequently are, summoned to give an account of their policies and actions to parliamentary committees.

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