Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Government Overview: Indonesia is a republic based on limited separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The constitution of 1945 is in force, but, based on a constitutional amendment of August 2002, beginning with the 2004 presidential elections, the once powerful, party-centered presidency is subject to popular election and limited to two five-year terms. Prior to the 2004 elections, the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat—MPR) chose the president and vice president, who were not necessarily from the same political party. Under the new law, the president and vice president are elected on a single ticket and the winning ticket must win more than 50 percent of the popular vote and at least 20 percent of the vote in half of the provinces. If these percentages are not met, a second-round runoff election is held. The president is both chief of state and head of government.

The MPR, the highest authority of the state, has both elected and appointed members. Under the amendment that surrendered its presidential election powers, the MPR also replaced its 200 nonelected members (representatives of provinces and various social groups) with elected members of a new legislative body, the 200-seat House of Regional Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah—DPD), which was established by constitutional amendment in 2001. The DPD joins the existing 500-seat House of People's Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat—DPR) in a bicameral, all-elected legislature. The members of both houses make up the MPR.

The highest court of the land is the Supreme Court (Mahkamah Agung), composed of justices appointed by the president from a list of candidates approved by the legislature. In 2004 the Supreme Court was preparing to assume administrative responsibility for the lower-court system, currently run by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Under the Supreme Court is a quadripartite judiciary of general, religious, military, and administrative courts. Appeals can be made, sequentially, from a district court to a high court to the Supreme Court. A separate Constitutional Court was established in 2003. The Supreme Audit Board (Badan Permeriksa Keuangan) oversees accountability of public finance and is independent of the chief executive, but its members are chosen by the president.

The judicial branch is theoretically equal to the executive and legislative branches and has the right of judicial review over laws passed by the DPR, as well as government regulations and presidential, ministerial, and gubernatorial decrees. In practice, however, the judiciary is less influential than the executive and legislative branches, and it has often been heavily influenced by the executive branch. Indonesia has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

Administrative Divisions: Indonesia has 30 provincial-level units: 27 provinces (propinsi), two special regions (daerah istimewa; Aceh and Yogyakarta), and one special capital city region (daerah khusus; Jakarta). Since January 1, 2001, when central control over local affairs was lessened, the 357 districts (kabupaten) and municipalities (kotamadya)—the first-level provincial subdivisions—became the administrative units responsible for providing most government services. Following a 1999 referendum agreed to by the legislature, and a period of United Nations stewardship, the province of Timor Timur became the independent nation of the Democratic Republic of Timor-L’este (East Timor or Timor Lorosa’e) on May 20, 2002.

Provincial and Local Government: Provinces (propinsi) are divided into districts or regencies (kabupaten), which are further divided into subdistricts (kecamatan). There also are some municipalities or city governments (kotamadya) that are on the same administrative level as the districts and others that are on the subdistrict level. The lowest level of the administrative hierarchy is the village (desa). The chief executives are provincial governors, district or regency heads, mayors of cities, and village heads. Legislation is handled by provincial and district parliaments. Under the revised election laws, governors, mayors, and district heads (regents) were to be directly elected for the first time in 2004.

Judicial and Legal System: The legal system is based on Roman-Dutch law, modified by indigenous concepts and by new criminal procedures and election codes. There are 2,418 district courts, each of which has a panel of judges that conducts trials by posing questions, hearing evidence, deciding on guilt or innocence, and assessing punishment. Both the defense and prosecution can appeal verdicts. Arbitrary arrest and detention are prohibited, but the government lacks adequate enforcement mechanisms, and authorities have routinely violated the Criminal Procedures Code. The code provides prisoners with the right to notify their families promptly, and specifies that warrants must be produced during an arrest. Exceptions are allowed if, for example, a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. The law allows investigators to issue warrants; at times, however, authorities make arrests without warrants.

Electoral System: Indonesia has direct, popular election of its parliamentary representatives. All citizens 17 years of age and older are eligible to vote. Indonesia’s first free parliamentary elections since 1955 were held in July 1999 and resulted in a major victory for a new party under the leadership of Sukarno’s daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri—the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). The PDI-P, although receiving the greatest share of the vote, did not have sufficient support within the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), which instead chose the Muslim leader and progressive intellectual Abdurrahman Wahid as president and permitted the appointment of Megawati to the office of vice president. Up to and including this election, the president and vice president were elected separately by the MPR for five-year terms. When Wahid was found incompetent, he was deposed by the MPR, which then elected Megawati to the presidency. In accordance with constitutional changes, the 2004 election of the president and vice president was, for the first time, by direct vote of the citizenry. The first round in the presidential elections held in July 2004 narrowed the field of candidates, with the Democratic Party candidate, retired army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, gaining the most votes and Megawati coming in second among the five candidates. In the second round, in September, Megawati was decisively defeated and Yudhoyono was sworn in as president in October 2004.

Politics and Political Parties: The old emphasis on consensus, unity, and controlled political development came to an end in the post-Suharto era, starting in 1998. Whereas the official government party, Golkar, once held an absolute majority, there are now numerous parties vying for power, and none enjoys national majority support. These parties include the Crescent Moon and Star Party (PBB), Democratic Party (PD), Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), National Awakening Party (PKB), National Mandate Party (PAN), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and United Development Party (PPP). As a result of the April 2004 parliamentary elections, Golkar had 128 seats, PDI-P 109 seats, PPP 58 seats, PD 57 seats, PKB 52 seats, PAN 52 seats, PKS 45 seats, and other parties 49 seats.

Mass Media: The constitution provides for freedom of speech and freedom of the press; however, the government has a history of restricting these rights in practice. In August 1990, the government formally announced that it would refrain from censoring domestic and foreign media and from revoking the publishing licenses of newspapers that violated regulations governing the press. Yet in practice, the government’s policy toward the press did not change, and in 1994 it revoked the licenses of three major news magazines, Editor, DeTik, and Tempo. After President Suharto’s resignation in May 1998, the government once again officially disavowed censorship, and within six months both DeTik and Tempo had resumed publication (the latter under the name DeTak). Private press in current operation includes nearly 50 daily newspapers, dozens of magazines, 10 foreign press bureaus, and five private commercial television stations. There are also 10 foreign press bureaus, two government radio stations (Radio Republik Indonesia and Voice of Indonesia), one government news agency (Antara), and one independent national news agency (Kantorberita Nasional Indonesia). The government does not restrict Internet usage or content.

Foreign Relations: Indonesia is a charter member of the Nonaligned Movement, which was established in September 1961. The April 1955 Asian-African Conference—held in Bandung, Indonesia—was an important milestone in the development of the Nonaligned Movement’s goal of independence from the Cold War superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union) and the former colonialist powers and put Indonesia on the international stage for a time. As the Sukarno era progressed, however, Indonesia’s government was at odds with the Dutch over West New Guinea (now called Papua) and increasingly hostile toward neighboring Malaysia to the point that Sukarno withdrew Indonesia from the United Nations when Malaysia was appointed a nonpermanent member of the Security Council in 1964.

In the mid-1960s, following an attempted coup and subsequent upheaval, in which hundreds of thousands of communists and suspected communists were killed, power was transferred from Sukarno to General Suharto and a “New Order” established in which the military was paramount. This government moved quickly to rejoin the United Nations and reopen Indonesia to Western investment and influence. Relations with China, which was widely thought to have aided the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), were suspended. In 1967 Indonesia participated in establishing a new officially nonaligned grouping of neighbors, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was friendly toward the Western powers. Its secretariat was placed in Jakarta, and its first secretary general was an Indonesian. The commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the Bandung Conference in 1985 saw Indonesia’s full reemergence on the world stage, allowing Jakarta to project itself as a leading voice in the Nonaligned Movement and providing it with an extra-regional platform for claiming proper international standing. Indonesia’s diplomatic relations with China had been reinstituted in 1990. Then, in 1991, Indonesia gained its long-sought goal of chairing the Nonaligned Movement, but the 1992 Jakarta summit came at a time when the Cold War had ended and superpower rivalries were a thing of the past.

Indonesia continues to play an important role in ASEAN affairs, particularly in efforts to settle the Cambodia crisis. Indonesia’s most contentious regional relations are those with Australia, mostly over the situation in East Timor. In the 2000s, the Indonesia government proclaims that its relations with all major nations are based on the principles of nonalignment and what it calls an “independent and active foreign policy.”

Membership in International Organizations: Indonesia is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Nonaligned Movement, the United Nations (UN), and numerous other international organizations, including: the Asian Development Bank, Center for International Forestry Research, Developing Eight, Food and Agriculture Organization, Group of 15, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Conference of Islamic Scholars, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Finance Corporation, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Telecommunication Union, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organization of the Islamic Conference, UN Children’s Fund, UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Development Programme, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UN Fund for Population Activities, UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Information Centre, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Program, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization.

Major International Treaties: Indonesia is a party to numerous multilateral conventions, including the Biological Weapons Convention, Chemical Weapons Convention, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Geneva Conventions, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and others. Indonesia also is a signatory to international environmental conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, and Wetlands, and, as of May 2004, had signed, but not ratified Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol or Marine Life Conservation.


Armed Forces Overview: The Indonesia Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia—TNI) totaled some 346,000 active-duty personnel in 2004. The component services are the Army (TNI—Angkatan Darat), 265,000; Navy (TNI—Angkatan Laut), an estimated 57,000, of which 15,000 are marines and 1,000 are part of Naval Aviation; and Air Force (TNI—Angkatan Udara), 24,000, of which 4,000 are “quick-action” paratroopers. There is a reserve force of 400,000. With the transition to democratic rule beginning in 1998, the government endeavored to undertake steps to reform the TNI in order to improve public opinion about the military and to bring the military under civilian control. Among such steps were the devolution of the national police from the armed forces to the Office of the President and official transfer of responsibility for internal security from the TNI to the police in April 1999, focusing the military’s attention on national defense rather than domestic policing. Another important reform was a provision that military personnel had to retire or resign before occupying an elected or appointed civilian government position. However, the TNI successfully resisted transformation of its territorial command structure because of threats of terrorism and separatism, and because it needs this structure to support its huge business empire, from which it obtains an estimated two-thirds of its funding (the government budget provides only one-third of the funds needed to operate and equip the military and national police). After several years in disrepute because of revelations of extensive human rights abuses, the TNI has regained much of its lost prestige. Many Indonesians appear to favor military firmness as the country is facing terrorist, separatist, and ethnic conflict as well as a moribund economy.

Foreign Military Relations: Indonesia enjoys cordial military-to-military relations with a wide range of nations. Its closest ties are with fellow members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Formerly close ties to the United States, Australia, and some European countries became strained in the 1990s over human rights issues; many countries cut back their military relations with the TNI after the rampage of army and army-supported militia forces in East Timor in 1999. Because of arms sales embargoes imposed by its primary sources in the United States, Indonesia has turned to Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union, South Korea, and Poland, among others, for major arms purchases.

Human rights and political issues have also affected sales of foreign military equipment to Indonesia, but such tensions eased after East Timor gained independence in 2002. In 1992 the U.S. Congress terminated grant military training assistance (International Military Education and Training—IMET) after learning of Indonesian military human rights abuses in East Timor. This restriction was partially relaxed in 1995, but assistance was suspended again in 1999 as a result of violence following the referendum on East Timor’s separation from Indonesia.

External Threat: Indonesia has no conventional external threat to its security. The primary outside threat is that of international terrorism. Terrorists belonging to the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (Community of Islam) have conducted a number of recent bomb attacks, including the bombing of two night clubs on Bali in October 2002 that killed 202 people and injured more than 300, while a bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August 2003 killed 12 people and injured 150. Prompt police investigative actions and international cooperation resulted in the arrests of dozens of suspects and revealed an extensive network of affiliations among al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, and Islamic extremist groups inside Indonesia. More than 30 men were convicted in the Bali bombing case and several more in the Jakarta attack. Many of them were also involved in other terrorist attacks across Indonesia dating back to 2000. Another terrorist bombing, that of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004, killed ten people and injured 160 and led to a new round of investigations and tightened security. Other threats to Indonesian security include piracy, particularly in the Strait of Malacca, smuggling, and maritime poaching.

Defense Budget: Indonesia’s defense budget officially totaled approximately Rp1.26 trillion (US$1.4 billion using an exchange rate of Rp9,000 to US$1), or 1.06 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in FY 2004. However, most analysts believe that approximately two-thirds of military spending is derived from sources other than the official defense budget (diversions from other budgetary entities and from the military’s huge business empire) and that actual expenditures for FY 2003 were closer to nearly Rp 3.8 trillion (US$4.2 billion).

Major Military Units: The army includes 30 battalions under the centrally controlled Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), 100 battalions under 12 Military Regional Commands (Kodams), 3 operational groups in the Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus), and a 2-squadron Aviation Command. The navy has two fleets (Armadas), and the air force has two operational commands (Ko-Ops).

Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 325 light tanks, 175 armored reconnaissance vehicles, more than 600 armored personnel carriers (APCs), 245 towed artillery pieces, 70 self-propelled artillery pieces, 415 air defense guns, more than 100 surface-to-air missiles, 11 fixed-wing aircraft, and almost 100 helicopters. The navy’s inventory includes 2 submarines, 15 frigates, several dozen patrol and coastal combatants of various sizes, 12 mine warfare ships, and 26 amphibious forces ships (landing ship tanks). Many of the navy’s main line ships are in poor or non-seaworthy condition, particularly those acquired in the mid-1990s from the former East Germany. The navy has no combat aircraft but does have more than 40 non-combatant fixed-wing aircraft, 37 armed helicopters, and 17 transport helicopters. The marines (Kormar) have 100 light tanks, 10 anti-infantry fighting vehicles, 84 APCs, 48 towed artillery pieces, and about 50 air defense guns. The air force is equipped with 94 combat aircraft, 3 maritime reconnaissance aircraft, 2 tankers, 63 transports, 100 trainers, and 40 helicopters. As is the case with the navy, many of the aircraft are non-operational because of a lack of spare parts and other maintenance problems. The current inventory has arms supplied by the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There is increasing emphasis on domestic production of such items as light aircraft, small arms, and ammunition; helicopters and transport aircraft are assembled under licensing agreements. Senior officials with the air force and navy have complained that few ships, planes, or weapons systems are operational, and most are obsolete.

Military Service: The earliest age of service is 18, and two years of selective conscription of males are authorized.

Military Forces Abroad: Indonesian forces abroad are currently involved in several United Nations peacekeeping operations: the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC; 13 peacekeepers, including 4 observers), United Nations Organization Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG, 4 observers), and United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL, 10 observers).

Police: The strength of the Indonesian National Police stood at approximately 285,000 in 2004. The national police force was formally separated as a branch of the armed forces and placed under the Office of the President in 1999. It also includes 12,000 marine police and an estimated 40,000 People’s Security (Kamra) trainees who serve as a police auxiliary and report for three weeks of basic training each year. There has been occasional friction between police and the military, with several instances of armed combat between them, usually caused by disputes over “turf” and shady business enterprises.

Internal Threats and Terrorism: There are two general threats to Indonesian domestic security: terrorism and ethnic and religious conflict. The terrorists causing the greatest problems in Indonesia are members of the regional group, Jemaah Islamiyah (Community of Islam). Although Jemaah Islamiyah operates primarily in Indonesia, it has operational units in peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. Jemaah Islamiyah has perpetrated significant terrorist acts and is believed to have strong links with al-Qaeda. The government announced at the time of the October 2002 Bali bombings that terrorism was “a real and potential threat to national security” and has called upon the public to confront domestically based terrorists.

Center-region relations have been perennially problematic, with the government continuing to experience difficulties in maintaining order and the rule of law in outlying regions. The most pressing threats are separatists in Aceh and Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). The major insurgent groups are Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM—Free Aceh Movement), which wants an independent Islamic state in Aceh and has an estimated strength of 2,000 armed activists; and Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM—Free West Papua Movement), which seeks independence for Papua and has an estimated 150 activists.

Other regions also experienced outbreaks of violence, some of them very serious, after 1996. These include religious violence in Maluku and Central Sulawesi, ethnic violence over land use and local power in Kalimantan and other locales, and violence involving both political-religious hostility as well as hysteria about the misuse of supernatural powers in East Java. There have been many incidents of anti-Chinese riots in urban areas, some of them very destructive. On several occasions, most notably in 2001, radical Muslim groups have “swept” parts of Jakarta, cities in central Java, and other tourist areas, threatening Westerners.

Human Rights: The United States Department of State’s Human Rights Report for 2003 (issued in February 2004) rates the Indonesian government’s human rights record as “poor” and notes that Indonesia has “continued to commit serious abuses.” Murders, torture, rape, beatings, and arbitrarily detaining civilians and members of separatist movements were all documented as abuses by security force members. The government also was accused of having frequently failed to protect adequately the fundamental rights of children, women, peaceful protesters, journalists, disabled persons, religious minorities, and indigenous people, among others. Aceh and Papua provinces were seen as the scenes of the most apparent human rights abuses, but human rights appeared to have improved in some provinces, for example Maluku and North Maluku, despite sporadic outbreaks of violence.

Index for Indonesia:
Overview | Government


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