Since its independence in 1945, Indonesia has held ten elections in the years 1955, 1971, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 1999, 2004 and 2009.
During Suharto’s New Order era, the Golkar Party won every election — six in total. Among all elections held in Indonesia, the 1955 and 2004 elections are the most noteworthy.
The First Election: 1955
The 1955 election was Indonesia’s first ever election. The election was initially planned for October 1945 but due to the nation’s instability was not finally executed until after Indonesia’s declaration of independence.
No limit was placed on the number of parties who could run, leading to a total of 80 parties, organizations and individuals registering as contenders. Every citizen had the right to vote, including the military and police corps.
There were two election periods. The September election period was to elect members of the House of Representatives (DPR) while the December election period was to elect members of the “Konstituante,” a special board set up to draft a new constitution.
On March 1956 a parliament consisting of 27 political parties and one individual was formed from the 1955 election winners. The top parties, taking 77 of the parliament’s total seats, were Islamic Masyumi Party, Indonesian National Party (PNI), Nadhlatul Ulama and Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
Indonesia’s unstable political environment meant the planned 1960 election never took place.
President Sukarno (president of Indonesia from 1945 to 1967) issued a decree on July 5, 1959 to dismiss the parliament and Konstituante. He also formed new bicameral legislative agencies: Gotong Royong House of Representative (DPR GR) and a Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) — whose members were chosen by the president himself.
The dismissal of the parliament and Konstituante in 1959 marked the end of Indonesia’s parliamentary democracy and the start of the era of guided democracy which had no election until 1971, after Suharto took office.
Elections in the New Order era
Since the start of President Sukarno’s Guided Democracy era, the number of political parties had been reduced to ten: PNI, Masyumi, NU, PKI, the Catholic Party, Indonesian Party (Partindo), the Murba Party, the Indonesian Islamic Union Party (PSII) and the Islamic Education Union (Perti).
Thosee ten parties then joined the election during Suharto’s New Order regime.
In 1973, Suharto reduced the number of parties participating in the election to three. The Islamic parties were united to become the United Development Party (PPP), while the remaining parties were merged to become the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).
Suharto’s own party, the Golkar Party, was unaffected.
Golkar won the next election in 1977, and it took the majority of the seats seats in the House of Representatives. Its political dominance continued until the regime was toppled in 1997.
Elections in Reformation era
After President Soeharto stepped down from his throne, Indonesia had a lot of discussion on which direction its political system should go.
President Soeharto stepped down on May 21, 1998 and was replaced by Vice President B.J. Habibie. Thirteen months after Habibie took the presidential seat, Indonesia held its next election.
The 1999 election was held faster than the five-year cycle — only two years after the last one — due to high public demand for a new legitimate government and leadership.
The first change the government took in this Reformation era was opening the chance for founding new political parties. The 1999 election was joined by 48 parties, 21 of them managed to require seats in the House of Representatives.
The election only aimed to choose members for the House of Representatives (DPR), People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD).
PDI won the majority seats on the election with 35 percent of votes. However, it was up to the MPR to decide on who would be Indonesia’s new president and vice president. The MPR elected Abdurrahman Wahid, or usually known as Gus Dur, from National Awakening Party (PKB) as the president and Megawati Sukarnoputri from PDI as his deputy.
The political atmosphere was still unstable and full of challenges, resulting in Wahid’s impeachment on July 23, 2001. Megawati then assumed the position.
Indonesia’s first direct election
The next election, held in 2004, was another milestone for Indonesia’s democracy. Indonesians now could elect their president and vice president directly instead of leaving the decision in MPR’s hands. There were 24 competing parties but only seven got the seats in the House.
The Regional Representatives Council (DPD) was also established that year.
2004 was also the year that Indonesia applied an electoral threshold which regulates that each party has to reach minimum 3 percent of popular votes to get seats in the parliament.
The presidential threshold requires a minimum 50 percent of the total votes to be nominated as a candidate. If no candidate reaches the 50 percent, there shall be another round of presidential election for the two candidates with the highest vote.
The 2004 election was held in three stages. The first stage was to elect members of the House. The second one was to elect the president and vice president. The third was to elect the president and vice president in a run-off election, since none of the candidates acquired the presidential threshold of 50 percent votes.
Seven parties were eligible to put its members in the House of Representatives: Golkar Party, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), PPP, PKB, Democratic Party, Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN).
Democratic Party’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla were elected as the president and vice president with 60.62 percent of popular vote, ahead of Megawati Soekarnoputri and Hasyim Muzadi who only received 39.38 percent of votes.
The 2009 Election
The 2009 election was the third election held in the Reformation era. Starting with that election an open list of legislative candidates was made available in which people could check candidates of each party before selecting one of them.
The legislative election, held on April 9, was composed of 44 political parties — 38 national ones and additional 6 local parties for Aceh province.
However, only nine passed the parliamentary threshold for the House of Representatives, with the Democratic Party getting the most votes, at 20.85 percent, followed by the Golkar Party, with 14.45 percent.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) came in third, with 14.03 percent of the vote, followed by Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) with 7.88 percent, National Mandate Party (PAN) with 6.01 percent, National Awakening Party (PKB) with 4.94 percent, Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party with 4.46 percent, and People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) with 3.77 percent.
For the presidential election, held in July of the same year, incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had picked Boediono as his vice presidential running mate, received 60.80 percent of the popular vote, higher than the 50 percent threshold.
PDI-P’s Megawati Sukarnoputri teamed up with Gerindra’s Prabowo Subianto for second with 26.79 percent of the vote, followed by former Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Hanura’s Wiranto, with 12.41 percent.