• 34


  • 412


  • 49.66%

    Female Population

  • 50.34%

    Male Population

  • 71

    Life expetancy at birth(*yrs)

  • 18%

    Pecentage of women in parliament

About Indonesia


Indonesian Coast
Indonesian Coast

Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago, with more than 17,500 islands that scattered between 6 degrees north latitude to 11 degrees south latitude and from 9 degrees to 141 degrees east longitude. Indonesia bridges two continents, Asia and Australia/Oceania. This strategic position profoundly influences the country's culture, social and political life, and the economy.

Spanning the length of 3,977 miles from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, if its territorial waters were included, the total area of Indonesia would cover 1.9 million square miles.

The five major islands of Indonesia are: Sumatra with an area of 473,606 square km, Java with an area of 132,107 square km, Kalimantan with 539,460 square km, Sulawesi with 189,216 square km, and Papua covering an area of 421,981 square km.



For more than three centuries most of the area now comprising Indonesia was ruled by the Netherlands under a system designed to serve the economic needs of the metropolitan power. Unlike the British in India or the United States in the Philippines, the Dutch saw no need to bring significant numbers of Indonesians into government or to start preparing them to manage their own affairs. The 1930 census, the last before Indonesia's independence, showed there were 208,269 Dutch living in Indonesia. They ran virtually everything, including serving as postmen in the capital city of Batavia. M.C. Ricklefs in his study A History of Modern Indonesia quotes Dutch governor-general B.C. de Jonge (1931-36) as saying, "we have ruled here for 300 years with the whip and the club, and we shall still be doing it for another 300 years." Education for the local people was also not high on the Dutch agenda, with the result that there were only a few hundred Indonesian college graduates out of a total population estimated at 70 million at the time of independence. A large number of those graduates were in politically acceptable fields such as medicine and engineering. Economists, political scientists, and administrative specialists were in very short supply.


From Independence to the Soeharto Era


The result was that Indonesians were poorly equipped to manage their own affairs, much less to run a sophisticated democratic form of government when they achieved independence. The institutions to support a democratic system were lacking, and the Indonesians themselves had inherited from their Dutch and Japanese rulers the traditions and legal structure of a highly authoritarian system. Moreover, the bulk of the population was poor, illiterate, and used to paternalistic rule, while those who were politically informed constituted a very thin layer of urban society. Nonetheless the newly independent nation's rulers did better than expected, and the commitment to the concept of democracy by the elite resulted in the period 1950-57 being the freest and most open in Indonesia's history. It was followed by two periods of authoritarianism: Sukarno's "Guided Democracy" (1957-65) and Soeharto's "New Order" (1966-98).


Indonesia declared its independence on August 17, 1945. The following day the revolutionary leaders promulgated what is now known as the 1945 constitution. Modeled on the Chinese Organic Law of 1931, it is short (37 articles), vague, and provides for a powerful president and a very weak legislature. It departs in important ways from Western democratic concepts. With the achievement of independence in December 1949, Indonesia's leaders promulgated a new basic document--the 1950 constitution—that mandated a parliamentary system with a largely ceremonial president, guaranteed human rights, placed the military under civilian control, and provided checks and balances on the misuse of power. Drafted by the Indonesians themselves, this constitution survived until 1959 when Sukarno unilaterally abrogated it, reimposed the 1945 constitution, and formally proclaimed Guided Democracy.


The period from December 1949 until July 1955 was tumultuous with monumental administrative problems, outbreaks of dissent and violence in several parts of the archipelago, and the coming and going of five cabinets. With the opposition becoming increasingly vocal over the delay in holding national elections, it was decided that polling for an elected parliament would take place in September 1955 with elections for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that December. The ensuring election campaign further aggravated regional and intergroup frictions, and this is worth bearing in mind in case history should repeat itself.


Interest in the elections was high, and 91.5 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots. A total of 28 parties gained seats, but only 4 really counted. Those 4 shared roughly equally in about 75 percent of the vote. (see Table 1) Masyumi (Majlis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia, Consultative Council of Muslim Indonesians) was created by the Japanese in 1943 as a vehicle to control Islam, and it included most Muslim educational and social organizations. It was banned by Sukarno in 1960. Several present-day parties try to trace their lineage to Masyumi. Nahdlatul Ulama (Awakening of Religious Teachers, NU) was established in 1926 by the grandfather of the present NU leader, and the organization continues today as the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia (estimated 30 million members). It is headed by Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, and is the patron of the present National Awakening Party (PKB). It is a conservative rural organization with particular strength in East Java. The Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) became the political vehicle of Sukarno. In 1973 it was fused by Soeharto into the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI, a merger of the Sukarno-era PNI with several Christian and other parties) and can now said to be the political vehicle of Sukarno's daughter Megawati, leader of the present Indonesian Democracy Party-Struggle (PDI-P). The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), at one time the third-largest communist party in the world, was eliminated following the abortive 1965 coup.


The parliamentary elections produced no solutions and only served to draw the battle lines among various groups more sharply. The December elections for a Constituent Assembly produced similar results. The assembly convened in November 1956 and was dissolved by Sukarno three years later without having drafted a constitution. Indonesians tend to view the period 1950-57 as one of fast-changing, weak governments, divisive party politics, and administrative chaos, as power shifted among the leading parties. Some outside observers are now saying that things were not as bad as they seemed and that both Sukarno and Soeharto, for their own purposes, denigrated the period of constitutional democracy. There is undoubtedly some truth in this, but at the same time there is little doubt that the period saw a sharpening of regional and intergroup tensions and many basic economic and social problems were not addressed. Also relevant is the fact that that there were four prime ministers during 1945-49 with governments changing on the average every 10.6 months; 1950-57 was a little better with six prime ministers and an average term of 12.4 months. Although the early 1950s were a time of political openness, there is no gainsaying the fact that political instability during that time paved the way for the succeeding authoritarian governments.


In March 1957, with serious disruptions in Sumatra and elsewhere, Sukarno proclaimed martial law. This was followed on July 6, 1959, by the institution of Guided Democracy, abolition of the Constituent Assembly, and restoration of the 1945 constitution by executive decree. In March the following year the elected parliament was dissolved when it failed to pass the government's budget. Thereafter Sukarno enacted budgets by decree as the economy descended into total chaos. Indonesia's experiment with constitutional democracy had ended.


The New Order


Soeharto came to power in the wake of the 1965 coup attempt in which the top leadership of the Indonesian army was murdered. As the ranking army officer left alive, he gradually restored order, consolidated his position, and moved Sukarno off center stage. In March 1966 he was given authority to exercise the powers of the presidency and the following year he was elected acting president by the MPR. His rule was to last for 32 years, and he became increasingly oppressive with the passage of time.


At the outset of his administration, Soeharto set two priorities: achieving stability and promoting economic development. He brought into office a talented group of U.S.-trained economists and received political advice from various sources, including a Chinese-dominated think tank. Excellent progress was made in straightening out the economic mess inherited from Sukarno (inflation at 600 percent, per capita GDP of $70, and an unpayable foreign debt). Initially his administration was fairly open -- certainly more so than that of Sukarno. But within a few years he became concerned that political party maneuvering, press criticism, and friction among various societal groups would interfere with the pace of economic growth.


Increasingly he cracked down on dissent and circled the wagons around an ever smaller group of family members and cronies, and his New Order government stifled expression and demanded uniformity in a society that is far from uniform. Ten parties had contested the 1971 parliamentary elections, the first held under Soeharto's New Order. This included nine opposition parties left over from the Sukarno days and a new government party called Golkar (the governing party; see discussion below under The Party System). In 1973 Soeharto forced the nine opposition parties to merge into two groups. Four Islamic-based parties were fused into the United Development Party (PPP), and five secular parties were forced into PDI. Golkar remained the government party, and it produced majorities for Soeharto over the next 25 years ranging from 60 to nearly 75 percent. But in actual fact, political parties were largely irrelevant. Even Golkar was kept on a tight leash, and the other two were only symbolic with few real differences in party platforms.


Soeharto's suppression of expression and dissent was accepted during most of the New Order in the face of impressive economic growth and improvements in living standards. But by the 1990s people were becoming disillusioned with Soeharto and tired of the state's growing oppression. Such a role by the government may have been accepted by a largely rural, poorly educated population, but after 30 years of economic growth Indonesian society was more urban, better educated, and more sophisticated. According to the 1990 census, over 50 million people lived in urban areas. The growth of an educated professional class led to demands for more "openness," and this became the buzzword in political discussion.


Indonesians became increasingly outspoken against concentration of power at the top and about the business activities of the Soeharto children, who, in the view of many, acted like members of an imperial family. And Soeharto himself gave evidence that he had changed--he no longer had his deft touch in dealing with real or imagined rivals. His brutal removal of Megawati as head of PDI in 1996 and granting one of his sons a monopoly in producing Indonesia's "national car" (a car that was actually made in South Korea) turned off many more of those who had stuck with him up to that point because he produced results on the economic front. The 1997 financial crisis, which hit Indonesia harder than any other Asian country, sealed his fate, and he was forced by student agitation, popular pressure, and defections among his senior cabinet members to resign on May 21, 1998.


The Habibie Administration


Soeharto's choice of vice president in 1998 as he stood for his seventh five-year term was B.J. Habibie, a German-trained aeronautical engineer who had served in the cabinet since 1978 as minister for research and technology. A protégé and longtime close associate of Soeharto, he was considered a poor choice by most of those Indonesians calling for more political openness. When Soeharto made his preference known in early 1998 the Indonesian rupiah, already under attack as a result of the financial crisis, reached its lowest point of 17,000 to the U.S. dollar. (In July 1997 it stood at 2,450 to the dollar.) One of the U.S.-educated economic technocrats, former cabinet member Emil Salim, announced that he would stand as a candidate against Habibie in the MPR elections. Salim knew his candidacy was doomed, but he apparently wanted to establish the precedent that the selection was not necessarily limited to Soeharto's choice. The assembly ignored Salim and voted unanimously for Soeharto and Habibie to serve from March 1998 until 2003. When Soeharto was forced to resign in May 1998, only 72 days after election to his seventh term, Habibie was sworn in as president in accordance with the constitution to serve out the remainder of Soeharto's five-year term.


Though not well equipped for the job by training or experience, Habibie has performed considerably better than most would have expected under the very difficult circumstances prevailing in Indonesia. Very early in his administration he announced that he would not attempt to serve out the rest of Soeharto's term but would move up parliamentary elections from 2002 and presidential elections from 2003 to 1999. This significantly defused charges that his presidency was not legitimate. He ended Soeharto's three-party system and opened the field, with the result that nearly 150 parties were announced. This has been narrowed to 48 by the government. He has also opened the possibility of wide-ranging autonomy or independence for East Timor, freed many political detainees, lifted restrictions on the media, and introduced some economic reforms, which, though sorely needed, have angered some elements of the public.


The MPR was called into session from November 11 to 13, 1998. In a session marred by serious violence and the death of a number of students agitating for Habibie's removal, the assembly took a number of important steps:


Amended the MPR internal rules to, inter alia, permit elected representatives of new parties to sit in that body as well as in the parliament and separated the leadership of the two bodies (formerly it had been the same).

Limited the president and vice president to a maximum of two five-year terms.

Decreed that parliamentary elections should be held in May or June 1999, that all parties meeting the legal requirements would be able to compete, and that appointed militar representation in legislative bodies should gradually be reduced in accordance with a law to be enacted later.

Provided for the establishment of an independent General Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum, KPU) to oversee the elections.

Country flag
Indonesia map
242,325,638 (2011)
Area (in sq. km)
Area (in sq. mi)
Bahasa Indonesia
Poverty rate*
Per capita income
$ 5200 ( U$ : 12,000 Rupiah)
Human Development Index

Sources: *Central Bureau Statistics (BPS) &Human Development Report 2012