Politics of the 1945 Constitution:Democratization and Its Impact on Political Institutions in Indonesia

Research Papers


September 2003

Before 1998, no one could think about the amendment of the 1945 Constitution. The 1945 Constitution was a product of nationalist who had hard fought for independence from the Dutch colonization. This historical background made it the symbol of independence of the Indonesian nation. Thus, it has been considered as forbidden to touch contents of the 1945 Constitution whereas political leaders have legitimized their authoritarian rulership by utilizing a symbolic character of the Constitution. With the largest political turmoil since its independence, that is, a breakdown of authoritarian regime and democratic transformation in 1998-1999, however, a myth of the "sacred and inviolable" constitution has disappeared. A new theme has then aroused: how can the 1945 Constitution be adapted for a new democratic regime in Indonesia?

   The Indonesian modern state has applied the 1945 Constitution as the basic law since its independence in 1945, except for around 10 years in the 1950s. In the period of independence struggle, contrary to the constitutional provision that a kind of presidential system is employed, a cabinet responsible for the Central National Committee was installed. Politics under this institution was in practice a parliamentary system of government. After the Dutch transferred sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949, West European constitutionalism and party politics under a parliamentary system was fully adopted with the introduction of two new constitutions: the 1949 Constitution of Federal Republic of Indonesia and the 1950 Provisional Constitution of Republic of Indonesia. Since a return from the 1950 Constitution to the 1945 Constitution was decided with the Presidential Decree in 1959, the 1945 Constitution had supported two authoritarian regimes of Soekarno's "Guided Democracy" and Soeharto's "New Order" as a legal base. When the 32-year Soeharto's government fell down and democratization started in 1998, the 1945 Constitution was not replaced with a new one, as seen in many other democratizing countries, but successively reformed to adapt itself to a new democratic regime. In the result of four constitutional amendments in 1999-2002, political institutions in Indonesia are experiencing a transformation from an authoritative structure, in which the executive branch monopolized power along with incompetent legislative and judicial branches, to a modern democratic structure, in which the legislative branch can maintain predominance over the executive. However, as observed that President Abdurrahman Wahid, the first president ever elected democratically in Indonesian history, was impeached after one and a half years in office, democratic politics under a new political institution has never been stable.

   Under the 1945 Constitution, how did authoritarian regimes maintain stability? Why can a democratic regime not achieve its stability? What did the two constitutional amendments in the process of democratization change? In the first place, how did the political institutions stipulated by the 1945 Constitution come out? Through answering the above questions, this chapter intends to survey the historical continuity and change of political institutions in Indonesia along with the 1945 Constitutions and to analyze impact of regime transformation on political institutions. First, we examine political institutions stipulated by the original 1945 Constitution as well as historical and philosophical origins of the constitution. Second, we search constitutional foundations in the 1945 Constitution that made it possible for Soekarno and Soeharto to establish and maintain authoritarian regimes. Third, we examine contents of constitutional amendments in the process of democratization since 1998. Fourth, we analyze new political dynamics caused by constitutional changes, looking at the impeachment process of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Finally, we consider tasks faced by Indonesia that seeks to establish a stable democracy.

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