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Fact-Sheet on the 1999 Elections

Tapol - February 24, 1999

On 28 January 1999, Parliament adopted three laws to replace the five political laws promulgated in 1985. The laws are about the elections, political parties and the composition of the parliament, the people's consultative assembly and the regional assemblies.

Under the new laws, the Indonesian people will vote for their members of parliament whose task it will be to adopt laws after the coming to power of a new administration. But, the fact that the members of the present parliament who drafted these laws were elected under Suharto casts doubt on the fairness and neutrality of the forthcoming general election which is scheduled to take place on 7 June 1999.

We present below some of the more critical and important aspects of the election and the possibility for creating a democratic society by means of these elections.

The political structure

Under Indonesia's political structure, eligible political parties will contest for seats in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – DPR (Parliament) while members of the DPR will automatically become members of the Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat – MPR (People's Consultative Assembly). The DPR will have 500 seats and the MPR will consist of the 500 DPR members plus 200 government appointees – 135 regional representatives and 65 representatives of social and mass organisations. The MPR will elect the president and vice president and decide on the Broad Guidelines of State Policy (Garis Besar Haluan Negara). There will also be elections for the provincial and district assemblies.

The system

The election will be based on a multiparty system. However, the vast majority of parties that have been set up will not be eligible to take part for reasons explained below. It will be held under a system of proportional representation at the provincial level. According to the law on the election, to be eligible to take part in the elections, a party must have branches in at least nine provinces, and in half the districts in each of these nine provinces. Dozens of parties will not meet these conditions.

Each political party will compete in the 27 provinces with their own candidate lists for national seats (DPR), provincial seats (DPRD-I) and district level seats (DPRD-II). Voters will elect by piercing the symbol of their party.

The contesting parties

The new laws seem to open new possibilities for every Indonesian to take part for the first time since 1955 in a democratic election. The laws do not stipulate formal limitations on political parties for participating in the election. But, under procedural regulations accompanying the laws, the number of parties eligible to take part will probably not exceed 15, although more than 150 parties now exist.

The voters

All Indonesian citizens above 17 will have the right to vote (married people under 17 will also be allowed to vote). According to the latest figures (based on the 1997 election) 124.7 million out of a population of more than 210 million people will be entitled to vote.

The organisation of the elections

Until the beginning of March, the Lembaga Pemilihan Umum – LPU (The General Election Institute) headed by Minister of Home Affairs was responsible for handling preparations for election (such as determining the election schedule). From then on, the organisation of the election will be taken over by a new body, the Komite Pemilihan Umum – KPU (Election Committee), composed of government officials and representatives of the parties which are eligible to take part.

As from 1 March, the KPU will be responsible for the conduct of the election. The KPU will be in charge of voter registration, the nomination of candidates, campaign arrangements, the polling and counting the votes at the polling stations.

The timetable

  1. Party registration (1 February to March 1999) conducted by LPU
  2. Voter registration by the KPU (16 March to 17 April 1999)
  3. Selection of candidates list for the DPR, DPRD I; DPRD II elections (1 March-15 April 1999)
  4. Campaigning (18 May-6 June 1999)
  5. Voting and vote counting at polling stations (7 June 1999)
  6. The announcement of the results
  • District Level - DPRD II (20-26 June 1999)
  • Provincial Level - DPRD I (27 June-2 July 1999)
  • National Level - DPR Pusat (3 July-12 July 1999)
  • Induction of Members of Parliament
    • District Level - DPRD II (20 July 1999)
    • Provincial Level - DPRD I (27 June-2 July 1999)
    • National Level - DPR (3 July-12 July 1999)
  • Induction of Members of the MPR (29 August 1999)
  • A ten-day session of the MPR which will elect Indonesia's fourth president and the vice-president commencing 28 October 1999.
  • This year's election is being described as a major step towards building a just and democratic society. But there are many serious flaws in the system.

    The armed forces

    The worst defect is the designation of seats in the DPR for ABRI, the armed forces. ABRI's insistence on retaining these seats is a manifestation of the army's dwifungsi or dual function, giving it a social and political role as well as being a force for the country's defence. The dual -function is the main obstacle to democracy in Indonesia. Under the new laws, the armed forces, whose members will not be entitled to vote in the elections, will occupy 38 DPR seats with full voting rights, leaving 462 seats for the political parties which contest seats. This means that the 38 ABRI seats in parliament will represent the equivalent of 9 to 10 million votes!

    In the provincial and district-level parliaments, the armed forces will occupy ten per cent of the seats without contesting in the elections. At present, the armed forces occupy half of the nation's governor positions, while forty per cent of district heads are from ABRI. By retaining seats the regional assemblies they will be able to influence appointments of governors and district heads.

    The second abuse of democracy is the appointment of two hundred members to the MPR by the present transitional government. There will be 135 seats for regional appointees and 65 for community and social groups. This gives plenty of leeway for ABRI and Golkar (the government party which holds the vast majority of seats in the present parliament) to promote their own appointees, so as to be able to have undue influence on the election of the next president.


    The third serious defect is the exclusion of ethnic and local communities from participating in the election of national and regional parliaments. The stipulation that parties must have branches in at least one third of all provinces means that local or ethnic groups will not have their own representatives in parliament. For instance, Acehnese or Papuan political parties will not be able to participate in the elections. The new laws are seriously skewed in favour of Java-based, nationwide parties. In a country of such ethnic diversity as Indonesia, this is a grave drawback. The same rules will also apply to the provincial and district assemblies which will be rendered incapable of representing the local communities.


    Under the new laws, civil servants are barred from joining political parties without the approval of their superiors. Any civil servant who joins a political party must take leave of absence, while being entitled to draw his or her basic pay for at least one year, which can be extended to five years. Civil servants who failed to report membership of a political party will be fired. This regulation was fiercely contested because the small parties in Parliament recognised that it would benefit Golkar, the party which most civil servants are likely to join. Ultimately, it was the Golkar line that prevailed.

    Another problem is that during the Suharto era, the Election Committee set up a Tim Penelitian Khusus – Litsus (Special Investigation Team) to screen party candidates for alleged communist influence. Anyone alleged to be a communist or their descendant or close relative was disenfranchised. This time, Interior Minister Syarwan Hamid said that there was not enough time for the Election Committee to create screening bodies so the task was given to each party, without making it clear whether the government intends to abolish this discriminatory policy or not. As things stand, it would appear that the parties allowed to contest in the elections will be expected to screen their own members for any alleged communist background. Former communists and their relatives will have the right to vote but not to be elected.


    It is too early to determine whether the electoral process will be truly free and fair for all political parties which are deemed to comply with the criteria. Although the government will allow independent observers to monitor the elections, it will be difficult for such bodies to cover an election that will take place in 300,000 polling stations, especially in the more remote parts of the country where cheating or vote-buying could occur without drawing much attention. Besides, government domination over the administration of the election process such as voter registration, nomination of candidates, voting and counting of votes in the polling stations from top to bottom also raises the prospect of manipulation and fraud. There is also the possibility of money politics being practised by the ruling party to buy votes or use bribery to influence people to vote for Golkar. Another spectre hanging over the election is the use of violence to intimidate voters. Violence which became part of the state culture under Suharto is now over-shadowing political and social life in Indonesia on a frightening scale. The eruption of violent incidents as the elections draw near could seriously jeopardise Indonesia's first post-Suharto general election.