Rediscovery of Democracy: An Indonesian Experience

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I was assigned by the organizing committee of this Yangon Seminar to talk about the transition to democracy in Indonesia since the end of President Soeharto’s rule in May 1998. However, after thinking about the theme for some time it occurred to me that what is taking place in Indonesia’s political system since 1998 until today is not Indonesia’s first experience of democracy.

Right after the attainment of national independence in August 17, 1945, Indonesia was involved in a series of armed struggle to defend its independence against some serious attempts of come-back of the Dutch colonial government after the termination of three and half year-Japanese occupation. The end of Japanese occupation was a direct effect of the Japanese surrender to the allied forces after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. The struggle to defend independence was combined with diplomatic efforts and resulted in the acknowledgement of Indonesian sovereignty in 1949. In 1950 Indonesia embarked upon a liberal period that lasted until 1957. During this time the first experience with democracy took place.

Political parties were founded and these proliferated in high speed owing to the general belief at that time that the presence of many political parties was a sign to world that democracy was implemented in independent Indonesia and worked well. The presence of a great number of political parties, however, led to ideological rivalry and brought about a shaky stability of political condition and the working of government. Cabinets tended to come and go in short time, depending on the consensus or conflict between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties. One achievement of this period, however, was the carrying out of the first and possibly the fairest general election in 1955. According to 1950 Constitution that replaced the 1945 Constitution, the government was run on the basis of parliamentary system. The House of Representatives gained the upper hand, whereas the President and Vice President had a limited power that was more or less only symbolic in nature.

By: Ignas Kleden - International Seminar on “The Role of Political Parties in Democratic Transitions”, Yangon, February 19-20, 2013
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See also the articles in newspapers from Myanmar:
- The Myanmar Times
- Eleven

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