On 14 February 2024, Indonesia held its simultaneous general and presidential elections. This has attracted global attention as it is the largest democratic process of its kind in the world; whatever opinion one might have on its outcomes, the sheer scale of its process is without a doubt an impressive feat.

The geographic and demographic size of Indonesia add to the challenge of this relatively young republic, who, although holding elections since 1955, have only elected their head of state (i.e. President) since 2004. This makes its highly ambitious one-day, simultaneous elections quite the administrative challenge, but in all fairness, this is achieved to a commendable degree, especially considering the difficult accessibility in further regions.

To illustrate both Indonesia’s relatively short-lived democracy, and subsequently the gargantuan effort it takes to make it work, we share its history and the astounding statistics of this year’s elections.

• History: The Journey of Democracy in Indonesia
• Contemporary: Statistics of the 2024 General Elections

History: The Journey of Democracy in Indonesia

The Philosophy of Freedom

The idea of democracy was but a whisper among society when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony. Ironically, a small group of young Indonesians who had witnessed democratic processes unfold in Europe brought its tenets and philosophies back to their homeland.

A prime example of this was when Mohammad Hatta, who would be the future vice-president, was arrested during his time in Netherlands (1927) for his role in Perhimpoenan Indonesia, a political party demanding Indonesian independence. Though arrested, he was given the right to

trial in the Hague and later released in 1929. He experienced first-hand how different state life was between an independent country and a colonised country — at home, he was later charged without trial and sent into exile. If Mohammad Hatta who was intelligent, educated, and legally literate could be treated like that then what about the common folk? He thought.

In Hatta’s generation the idea of democracy continued to permeate the movement for independence. The idea of democracy, struggled with the real conditions of Indonesia and concepts unique to Indonesia. We will see this struggle continue in the realm of an independent Indonesia.

The defeat of Japan in World War II was used by Indonesia to proclaim its independence. A new country had been born and the long-desired democracy had finally found its way. Indonesia then struggled with experiments, a complex dialectical relationship between the idea of democracy, the real conditions and even the reality of the Dutch who were still eager to hold on to their former colony. It is interesting and perhaps also fortunate that from the very beginning of its birth, Indonesia was open to democracy.

In its first ‘attempt’ at being a democracy, Indonesia adopted ‘Parliamentary Democracy (1945-1959)’. The cabinet was accountable to a parliament that was not formed through elections. The situation was too complex and severe, internal conflicts, infrastructure and superstructure conditions, the people had almost no mature political experience and still had to add to their defence against the Dutch.

Parliamentary democracy stumbled along. The cabinet was up and down quickly before it could do much. The cabinet was often so helpless that the president and vice-president had to intervene, putting themselves on the line to help the cabinet from parliamentary attacks. Although it was hard, Indonesia was able to get through a difficult start.

Nonetheless, Sukarno felt that this political system was not working effectively. Under the Decree of 5 July 1959, the president dissolved the House of Representatives and adopted what he called ‘Guided Democracy’ (1959 – 1965).  This was Sukarno’s ideal concept, a political approach based on the traditions othat had developed long ago in the villages long before Indonesia’s independence — discussion and consensus under the guidance of village elders. This returned Indonesia to its Presidential system and Sukarno was once again made head of state. He felt it was the most appropriate process for the young country, but this too fell into disarray…

Duality in Indonesian Democracy

The loudest opposition to the conception of guided democracy came from Indonesia’s former second-in-command. Hatta, who had withdrawn due to undeclared differences with Sukarno, emerged as a sharp critic. Hatta criticised and offered his conception in an article entitled “Our Democracy”. Hatta and Sukarno, who in earlier times could still compromise and worked hand in hand to build the nation, were now completely “divorced”.

Hatta envisioned Indonesian democracy as a Social-Democratic democracy, one that was accompanied by democracy in the economic market as well. Such democracy is in accordance with the ideals of the Indonesian nation for the creation of a socially just society, justice that covers all aspects of life. Hatta further explained that the concept of social democracy in the Indonesian style came from three sources. These three sources are western socialism, Islamic teachings, and Indonesian society based on collectivism. The guided democracy, which Hatta criticised as leaning towards dictatorship, required a strong leader in perpetuity. As such, the system would not outlast Sukarno, who certainly had the calibre to hold this position.

The Pancasila Illusion

Due to a variety of factors, including geo-politics of the time, guided democracy collapsed aggressively in 1965, with Sukarno’s government toppled by those who felt he had strayed too far from the Indonesia’s founding principles. National anti-communist sentiment, fuelled by the geo-political climate of the time, was a major factor.

Despite the atrocities of the time, the collapse of guided democracy had brought new hope. Leaders, intellectuals and even students placed their hopes on the new actors who later called themselves the “New Order” to distinguish themselves from Sukarno’s guided democracy, which was then popularly called the “Old Order”. This New Order era, ironically, was called the ‘Pancasila Democracy’ (1965-1998), as they conveyed to their constituents that they would be the saviours and defenders of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution. This, as we know, was enforced to the extreme.

Under this new government, headed by President Soeharto, any attempt to turn away or shift Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution were to be quashed, even if it meant manipulating parliament. At first, this new conception seemed pure, even hopeful. But that hope faded quickly, as The New Order soon emerged as the sole interpreter of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, a force that later controlled even the memory of the founding principles. As a result, every new policy introduced to uphold Pancasila fell into authoritarianism. Thus, Soeharto was able to stay in power for 32 years.

New Expectations for Current Indonesia’s Democracy

The pressure of the economic crisis, disasters, nature and various movements, mainly led by students and various other factors, were enough of a catalyst to see the toppling of Soeharto’s government in 1998. Reformation became a trend with many officials and famous figures vying to claim to be reformists.

New hope was in the air. Freedom began to open up and democracy seemed to regain its breath. This gave birth to Indonesia’s current system, known as the ‘Reform Period Democracy’ (1998-present). The first post-New Order election saw the participation of so many parties that the average citizen was often confused. It can be defined as a system that is in a continuous state of development, or a procedural political democracy. This moved Indonesia further to its liberal stance, and it has become more liberal, so did its economic system, opening Indonesia to the world and vice versa.

Over time, Indonesia has become a showcase of the full political spectrum through its transformation from a nationalist-dictatorship to liberal democracy. Indeed, the country has come far, but its political system continues to have gaping holes: cases of corruption, collusion and nepotism are an undeniable presence in today’s government.Moreover, Indonesia’s openness has resulted in privatisation and deregulation, taking notes from its Western counterparts. This itself has opened challenges and conflict in the country, with society and public rights falling further into the hands of the private sector.

Somewhere on that spectrum lies the perfect political system for Indonesia, for now, we continue to search.

Contemporary: Statistics of the 2024 General Elections

Needless to say, Indonesian democracy (and indeed those found in countries) leaves room for improvement, and even through cycles of stability, the natural ebb and flow of democratic politics sees periods of instability arrive in its wake.

Nonetheless, the democratic system is complex, and for a country as large as Indonesia, this is even more so the case! To illustrate, we take a look at some incredibly intriguing statistics from the recently passed general elections (14 February 2024) and one will see just how cumbersome a task this is.
Indonesia is one of the most multi-party countries in the world. In comparison to India, for example, where elections can take a month, Indonesia does this in one day.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has determined that the Permanent Voter List (DPT) for the 2024 elections is 204,807,222 voters. Of that number, 102,218,503 male voters and 102,588,719 female voters. Voters in the 2024 General Election who are in the country reach 203,056,748 people and voters abroad 1,750,474 people.

The proportion of Generation Z voters amounts to 46,798,450 people and the millennial generation is 68,815,227 people. These two generations dominate the voter population in 2024, making up to 56.45 percent.

1,101,178 people with disabilities have been recorded in the 2024 Election permanent voter list (DPT). The number of voters with disabilities covers 0.54 per cent of the total 204.8 million national voters.

In the 2024 elections, there are 20,468 seats up for grabs. These consist of 580 seats in the House of Representatives, 152 seats in the House of Representatives, 2,376 seats in the provincial DPRD, 17,519 seats in the district/city DPRD, and one seat each for the president and vice president. This year there were 9,917 candidates for DPR members who are eligible to be included in the permanent candidate list (DCT) spread across 84 electoral districts. Of these, 6,241 are men and 3,676 are women.

Meanwhile, the total list of permanent candidates for DPD in the 2024 elections is 668 candidates consisting of 535 men and 133 women.

Three pairs of 2024 presidential and vice-presidential candidates, namely Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud MD.

In order to achieve the elections for all of these candidates, KPU opened 823,220 polling stations (TPS), spread across 38 provinces, 514 districts / cities, 7,277 sub-districts, and 83,731 villages / sub-districts. Running this voting centres, the KPU recruited 5,741,127 personnel, stationed at polling station organiser groups (KPPS). 1,208,921,320 ballot papers were printed, including 1,640,322 special sheets for blind voters.

Democracy at this scale is certainly not cheap either, as the Ministry of Finance allocated a total budget of IDR 71,3 trillion for the general elections.

What a list of statistics! Whilst one may judge results, there are many good ordinary civil workers who do their best to ensure a fair election across the archipelago, and as we can see, it is no easy task.

Data was taken directly from the KPUs website.

NOW! Jakarta

NOW! Jakarta

The article is produced by editorial team of NOW!Jakarta