Overview of Indonesia’s Political Structure

Daftar SbmptnAs a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, it cannot be denied, Islam plays an important role in national political decision-making in Indonesia. Nevertheless, Indonesia is not an Islamic state. Indonesia is a secular country. Its political policies need not be based on one particular religious teaching. 

Political decentralization in the post-Suharto era has given greater power to regional government and the effect of this development is implicit in the making of regional political decisions that are increasingly influenced by the teachings of certain religions. Examples of political policies in Muslim areas with the influence of strict teachings, for example, are banning businesses based on pig material or requiring women to wear the hijab or veil. Such policies would seem strange if implemented in eastern Indonesia, where the majority of the population is Christian.

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With the majority Muslim population and the dominance of the island of Java (which is predominantly Muslim) in national politics, overall Indonesia is indeed more oriented towards Islam. A president who adheres to a non-Muslim religion seems impossible. Nevertheless, Islam in Indonesia can be said to be quite moderate because most Indonesian Muslims are non-extremists. For example, the majority of Muslims reject the application of Sharia law. Another example is when Megawati Sukarnoputri was elected as Indonesia’s first female president in 2001, only a minority group rejected her leadership because she believed in an Islamic doctrine that did not allow women to lead.

The Indonesian political system consists of three institutions:

  • executive
  • legislative
  • judiciary

Executive Institutions in Indonesia

Which includes the executive branch is the president, vice president, and his cabinet. Both the president and vice president are elected by the Indonesian electorate in the presidential election. The president and vice president serve for five years and afterward can be re-elected in the same position for one term. During the campaign period, the president and vice president are an inseparable couple. Thus the composition of the two leaders is of great political strategy importance. The things that can influence political strategy are ethnic background (and religion) and previous social position in society.

In terms of ethnicity and religion, a Javanese Muslim will be more supported by popularity because the majority of Indonesia’s population is Javanese Muslim. For lower-level political positions (depending on the context of a particular regional religion), non-Islamic political leaders are still possible. To exemplify, the former Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), who is a Christian Chinese.

By looking at the previous social positions in society, there are several categories that can provide popular support in various circles. The categories are (retired) army officers, businessmen, technocrats and Muslim intellectual leaders. Therefore, to enhance the chances of winning in the presidential and vice-presidential elections usually come from two different social categories in order to reach a wider voter audience. For example, the previous Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (a retired soldier) chose Boediono (a Javanese Muslim technocrat) as vice president during the 2009 campaign. People’s trust in the couple increased because Boediono was an economist. Although Indonesia experienced leadership authority during the Suharto. Even now, a general can still be popular with the people because they are considered a strong leader.

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Meanwhile, President Joko Widodo (a Javanese Muslim and former businessman) chose Jusuf Kalla as vice president (a businessman, politician and Muslim from Sulawesi). Kalla has a long history in Indonesian politics (especially in the Golkar party, Suharto’s old political vehicle) and enjoys wide popularity in Indonesia. Widodo was actually a newcomer to national politics in early 2014, so Kalla’s long experience in politics gave the pair greater credibility.

After the election, the newly elected president will elect members of his cabinet which usually consists of members of his party, coalition parties, and non-party technocrats. 

Legislative Institutions in Indonesia

The legislative body is the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). MPR is authorized to draft or amend the Constitution and appoint (or suspend) the president. MPR is a bicameral legislature comprising the House of Representatives (DPR) and the District House of Representatives (DPD).

The DPR, which consists of 560 members, is tasked with forming and approving laws, calculating the annual budget with the president and overseeing the implementation of laws and political issues. DPR members are elected for a five-year term with a fair proportion of representatives based on election results. Unfortunately, the DPR has a bad reputation because of the issues of corruption scandals that are often carried out by its members.

The DPD handles decisions, laws, and issues that are indeed related to the region in question, thus its existence is able to increase regional representation at the national level. Each province in Indonesia elects four DPD candidates (who will work in government for five years) from non-parties. Because Indonesia has 32 provinces, the number of DPD members is 132 people.

Judicial Institutions in Indonesia

What is meant by the judiciary is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court (MA) is the highest court in the Indonesian justice system. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the appeal process and the Supreme Court also handles disputes in lower courts. In 2003 a new court was formed, the Constitutional Court. The Court monitors the decisions made by the cabinet and parliament (MPR) and its position is in line with the Indonesian Constitution. Most legal cases can be handled by general courts, administrative courts, religious courts, and military courts.

A Judicial Commission oversees the maintenance of the position, dignity, and behavior of Indonesian judges. There are many reports that the judiciary in Indonesia is not free from corruption and is not entirely independent of other political branches.

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