Chapter 2 Indonesia’s Diversity: A Brief Constitutional Perspective

In: Courts and Diversity
I D.G. Palguna
Search for other papers by I D.G. Palguna in
Current site
Google Scholar
Search for other papers by Bisariyadi in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access


This chapter examines Indonesia’s diversity from a constitutional perspective. It highlights the country’s multifaceted nature and the challenges of maintaining unity in such a pluralistic society. The chapter also provides a historical overview of Indonesia’s constitutional framework, with a focus on different constitutional frameworks and regional autonomy policies that have been experimented with to accommodate diversity. The constitutional history is divided into five periods: revolutionary (1945–1949), constitutional democracy (1949–1957), guided democracy (1957–1965), New Order (1965–1998), and reform (1998–present). The chapter suggests that throughout the course of the Indonesian history, the diversity has been sustained by strong political figures rather than a stable system of government or institutions. Ultimately, the chapter argues that Indonesia’s identity as a nation should be shaped by the diversity of its citizens, and the country’s constitution should serve as a unifying legal document that recognizes and protects diversity.

So which one is called our homeland, our motherland?

In geopolitical terms, Indonesia is our homeland.

Indonesia that is whole, not just Java, not just Sumatra, or Borneo, or Celebes, or Ambon, or Maluku,

but of all the islands designated by Allah swt

as a united territory between two continents and two oceans, that is our motherland!1


1 Introduction

Many people perceive Indonesia as a country with a vast area, stretching from Sabang to Merauke, made up of large and small islands. This perception is affirmed in the Indonesian Constitution, which states, “The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia is an archipelagic state having an Archipelagic (Nusantara) character with a territory, the borders and rights of whose territory is stipulated by law.” Indonesia takes great pride in its identity as an archipelagic nation, where thousands of islands form a cohesive unit that embodies the national motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity).2

However, the essence of a state cannot be viewed solely from a territorial perspective; it also encompasses its people, who are the inhabitants and citizens of the state.3 Indonesia’s identity as a nation is shaped by the diversity of its citizens, who belong to various ethnic groups with different racial characteristics. With about 18,110 islands and islets (of which about 6,000 are inhabited), Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic state. Its total area, including its exclusive economic zone, is estimated at 9.8 million sq km, comprising 1.9 million sq km of land and 7.9 million sq km of sea.4 The country is home to more than 300 ethnic groups and cultures, with 742 living local languages.5 Its people embrace five mainstream religions (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism), along with dozens of local and indigenous beliefs that are collectively known as aliran kepercayaan kepada Tuhan (traditional belief in God). The majority of Indonesians practice Islam, which is adhered to by more than 86.7% of the population.6

map 1.1

In addition, it has long been observed that in a pluralistic society, such as Indonesia, maintaining the concept of unity can be challenging due to various factors.7 These include (i) segmentation in the form of groups with sub-cultures that often differ significantly with one another; (ii) a social structure that is divided into non-complementary institutions; (iii) a lack of consensus on some basic values among members; (iv) relatively frequent conflicts between groups; (v) social integration that is based largely on coercion and economic interdependence among groups; (vi) the domination of a certain group over others.8 Furthermore, the structure of Indonesian society is unique in both horizonal and vertical aspects. Horizontally, it comprises numerous social entities formed and developed on the basis of ethnicity, custom, religion, and region. Vertically, there are relatively sharp differences between the upper and lower classes within the society.9

The quotation by Soekarno, which opens this chapter, reflects the ideas and efforts of Indonesia’s founding fathers to instill and disseminate ideas on nationalism as the spirit of unity. It should be noted that the zeitgeist of Indonesia’s independence in 1945 was strongly influenced by the international context of nations fighting to liberate themselves from colonialism.10

Now, 78 years since the declaration of independence, Indonesia has experienced various transformations. A positive outlook that is often expressed today is that Indonesia has tremendous potential for progress and success as a great nation. One of many factors supporting this projection is demographic bonus11 that Indonesia is set to experience in the near future. Whether Indonesia can achieve such expectations of greatness is not the main focus of this chapter. Given the vast scope of the issue and the need for expertise from many fields to answer this question, the focus of this chapter is instead to provide a comprehensive constitutional perspective of Indonesia’s diversity.

The aim of this chapter is to explore Indonesia’s diversity from the perspective of its constitution. As a fundamental legal document, the constitution links the nation’s history with its aspirations for the future. Furthermore, it seeks to unify the nation while simultaneously recognizing and protecting the diversity of its people.

In providing a comprehensive constitutional perspective of Indonesia, this chapter is divided into two main sections. The first section describes Indonesia by looking from a historical angle at the idea of Indonesia in the past and in relation to the goals of the state as outlined in the constitution. The second section focuses on the constitutional arrangement of the state with its citizens and the authority of state institutions. The section will describe the unique characteristics of Indonesia’s constitutional arrangement, which is influences by the legal traditions of other countries. The chapter pays particular attention to the Indonesian legal system’s branch of judicial power, including a description of the Constitutional Court. Both sections will conclude with a summary of the key points discussed.

2 The Idea of Indonesia: a Perspective of Constitutional History

The word “Indonesia” was not coined until 1850. It was first introduced in ethnological studies by George Samuel Windsor Earl, who used the term “Indu-nesians” to describe the Polynesian race inhabiting the Indian islands. However, Earl faced a dilemma between using the terms “Indu-nesians” or “Malay-nesians”. He ultimately chose the term “Malayu-nesians”.12 The term “Indu-nesians” was later adopted by Earl’s colleague, James Richardson Logan, founder of The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, where the word “Indonesia” was mentioned in 1850.13

George Alexander Wilkens, a prominent Dutch ethnologist who was also a professor at Leiden University, was inspired by Logan to use the word “Indonesia”.14 Following Wilkens’ lead, successive Dutch scientists used the word “Indonesia” in the titles of their scientific articles published between 1911 and 1925. These included works by Johan Hendrik Caspar Kern, George Karel Niemann and Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje.15

The idea of an independent nation represented by the word “Indonesia” was later embraced by students and figures in the then-Dutch East Indies who envisioned the independence movement. Adrian Vickers notes that,

By 1920 the most intriguing of words appeared in the parties’ vocabulary: ‘Indonesia’ … Previously the Youth Alliances had talked about a separate Balinese nation, Javanese nation, Sumatran nation and so on; now ‘Indonesia’ spoke of a single people.16

However, the movement for Indonesian independence did not only involve the Dutch government. In 1942, Japan invaded and expanded its power in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.17 The Japanese occupation of Indonesia did not last long, but it brought major changes, including in the use of daily language. Anthony J.S. Reid analyzed that,

The Japanese were, for example, ignorant and contemptuous of the Dutch language. In contrast to Malaya and Burma the use of the old colonial language was banned in Indonesia, and the formerly Dutch-speaking élite had to team to communicate in Indonesian. This gave a tremendous boost to the national language, whose status was never questioned after the war.18

In addition, Japan’s attitude toward the Indonesian independence movement showed little effort to impede it. In fact, the Japanese even facilitated the movement with the establishment of the Investigative Body for Preparatory Work for Independence (Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan, bpupk) in March 1945. bpupk held its first meeting in May 1945, when Indonesia was still in its embryonic stage, but the composition of its 62 members was dominated by nationalist groups and failed to represent the diversity of the future nation.19 In July 1945, facing imminent defeat in World War ii, Japan promised that Indonesian independence would be granted on 7 September 1945;20 however, Japan announced its surrender to the Allied forces on 15 August 1945.

In essence, the concept of Indonesia as a nation was accomplished with the declaration of independence on 17 August 1945. The narrative of “Indonesia” as an independent nation entitled to self-government was establish with a unified territory that stretched across the vast regions formerly occupied by the Dutch and the Japanese. The idea of independence was also enshrined in the Preamble to the 1945 Constitution, which declared: “Whereas Independence is the inalienable right of all nations; therefore, colonialism must be abolished.” The drafters of the Preamble were eager to encourage other nations under colonialism to boldly declare themselves as independent countries on the basis of equality.

Furthermore, the next paragraph in the Preamble includes the following statement: “By the blessings of Almighty God and motivated by the noble desire to live a free national life, the people of Indonesia hereby declare their independence.” This statement contains two elements that served as the impetus for the independence declaration. First, that freedom is an endowment from God. Therefore, in the administration of government, the greater power of God’s sovereignty should not be forgotten. Second, that independence is a manifestation of the desire to live in a free nation. These elements show that the concepts of independence and freedom were significant considerations in the drafting of the Preamble.

It has been well documented that the newly-formed republic faced a challenging period after the independence declaration. George McTurnan Kahin referred to the time between 1945 and 1949, which marked the transition from independence to the enforcement of a new constitution, the Constitution of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (Konstitusi Republik Indonesia Serikat 1949), as the revolutionary period.

To better understand the chronological order of events and the phases of Indonesian history under different constitutions, it is necessary to compile a periodization. This chapter divides the period after the declaration of independence into five distinct phases: (1) the revolutionary period (1945–1949); (2) the constitutional democracy period (1949–1957); (3) the guided democracy period (1957–1965); (4) the New Order era, (1966–1998); and (5) the reform period (1998–present).

2.1 The Revolutionary Period, 1945–1949

The era after declaration was called the revolutionary period, characterized by the major overhaul in the system of government following the Japanese occupation era. The Constitution drafted by bpupk as further developed by the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia, ppki) came into effect the day after the declaration, with the understanding that it was provisional. At the same time, the ppki appointed Soekarno as President and Mohammad Hatta as Vice President.21 ppki did not only decide the first President and Vice President, but also the territorial division of the new nation. This took shape on 19 August 1945, when the ppki issued a decree dividing Indonesia into eight provinces: West Java, Central Java, East Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Sunda Ketjil (Lesser Sundas).

On 29 August 1945, Soekarno transformed the ppki into the Central Indonesian National Committee (Komite Nasional Indonesia Pusat, knip) and expanded its membership to 135 people. However, knip was not designed as a parliament with legislative functions, but rather as an advisory body to the President in national policy-making. Additionally, knip were not formed only at the national level but also at the provincial level to provide assistance and assessments to the governors.

Concurrently, the government took steps for the formation of a national army by disarming and reorganizing the armed forces that had been formed during the Japanese occupation. The government established the People’s Peace Preservation Corps (Badan Keamanan Rakyat, bkr). Then, on 5 October 1945 the bkr was renamed the People’s Peace Preservation Army (Tentara Keamanan Rakyat, tkr).

On 31 August 1945, the President formed a cabinet of 16 ministers, with 10 of them assigned to handle foreign affairs, domestic affairs, justice, economic affairs, finance, education, social affairs, information, health, and communications. The remaining ministers were appointed without any specific portfolio.22

Despite the establishment of essential institutions for the government’s administration, its performance fell short of expectations due to the unstable political situation. Meanwhile, the process of disarming the Japanese troops was still ongoing, being conducted by Allied forces led by the British who entered Indonesian territory. However, the disarmament was met with resistance in many areas, and the presence of Dutch armed forces accompanying Allied troops further complicated the situation.

In addition to facing external threats, the young Indonesian government also experienced internal political instability. The knip, initially established as an advisory body to the President, sought to expand its powers to legislative functions, including drafting and enacting laws. It also initiated a move to change the governmental system from presidential to parliamentary. To accomplish these changes, the knip appointed Sutan Sjahrir and Amir Syarifuddin to lead a Working Committee.

The Working Committee introduced a multi-party to replace the existing one-party system, and scheduled general elections for January 1946 to establish a parliament that would succeed the knip. As a result of this initiative, numerous political parties emerged, including the Indonesian National Party (Partai Nasional Indonesia, pni) founded by Soekarno and Hatta, the Indonesian Muslim Syuro Council Party (Partai Majelis Syuro Muslimin, Masyumi), the Socialist Party, the Catholic Republican Party of Indonesia, the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, pki), and the Indonesian Labor Party.23 However, due to the unstable political climate, the elections were postponed.

In response to armed conflicts with Dutch forces, which had joined the Allied convoys in disarming the Japanese, the Indonesian government engaged in several diplomatic meetings with the Dutch. These negotiations resulted in the Linggajati, Renville, and Roem-van Royen agreements. However, controversy surrounded these accords due to dissent among political groups, which was echoed by the representatives of the political parties. These Dutch used these negotiations as part of their strategy to break up Indonesia’s territorial integrity by introducing the concept of a federal government. Lt. Governor General H.J. van Mook proposed the creation of 15 regions, six of which were states while the others were autonomous regions, under the control of the Dutch royal government.24 These new states and autonomous regions were incorporated into a Dutch organization named the Meeting for Federal Consultation (Bijeenkomst voor Federal Overleg, bfo).

Van Mook’s initiative to create a federal Indonesian state under Dutch control sparked a political divide. The republicans were devoted to the idea of a unitary state, while the federalists joined the bfo.25 This division between the two political groups became significant in subsequent negotiations that ultimately led to the Round Table Conference, which marked a turning point in the Indonesian state administration.

The Round Table Conference, held from August to 2 November 1949, was preceded by a series of meetings aimed at drafting a new constitution for Indonesia. The conference was attended by three parties: the Royal Dutch government, the Republic of Indonesia, and the bfo representing the member states of the federation.

The conference led to the transfer of sovereignty and recognition of the Indonesian government as a federal state. The following key points were agreed upon:26

  1. 1.The Kingdom of the Netherlands unconditionally and irrevocably transfers complete sovereignty over Indonesia to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia, thereby recognizing it as an independent and sovereign state.
  2. 2.The Republic of the United States of Indonesia accepts this sovereignty on the basis of the provisions of its Constitution, which as a draft has been brought to the knowledge of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  3. 3.The transfer of sovereignty shall take place at the latest on 30 December 1949.
The conference also introduced the new constitution, the Constitution of the United States of Indonesia. Under the agreement and the new constitution, the territory of the United States of Indonesia was defined as follows:

The United States of Indonesia covers the entire territory of Indonesia, namely the following regions:

  1. a.The Republic of Indonesia, with areas according to the status quo as stated in the Renville agreement dated 17 January 1948: East Indonesia State; Pasundan State, including Jakarta Federal District; East Java State; Madura State; East Sumatra State, with the understanding that the status quo of South Asahan and Labuhan Batu in relation to East Sumatra State remains in effect; South Sumatra Country.
  2. b.Self-supporting state units: Central Java; Bangka; Belitung; Riau; West Kalimantan (special region); Dayak Besar; Banjar area; Southeast Kalimantan; and East Kalimantan. The regions of a and b have the right to determine their own destiny and are united in the federation of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia, based on what is stipulated in this Constitution.
  3. c.The rest of Indonesia that is not part of the regions of a and b.

map 1.2
map 1.2

Federal Indonesia, 1948–1949

source: robert cribb and audrey kahin, historical dictionary of indonesia, 2nd edition, 2004, p. xxxviii

Close examination of the agreement shows that the regions included in the United States of Indonesia are referred to as the “Republic of Indonesia”. This republic was recognized as a member of the federal state. Consequently, the 1945 Constitution, which was promulgated on 18 August 1945, remains the valid constitution of the Republic of Indonesia as a state. However, the newly drafted constitution resulting from the conference pertains to the United States of Indonesia as a federal state. Therefore, while the 1945 Constitution is still enforced in the Republic of Indonesia as a member state with its capital city in Jogjakarta, the newly drafted constitution applies to the United States of Indonesia as a federal state.

2.2 The Constitutional Democracy Period, 1949–1957

As a follow-up to the conference’s agreement, a state ceremony was held on 27 December 1949 to symbolize the of transfer of sovereignty. The ceremony consisted of three processes:27

  1. 1.First, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands and the Prime Minister of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia signed a Protocol, which acknowledged the relevant provisions of the Netherlands Constitution and the acceptance of the Covering Resolution by the 16 Indonesian territories. It stated that both parties had accepted the draft agreements and exchange of letters, thereby establishing “the new order of law”.
  2. 2.Second, the Queen of the Netherlands proclaimed her assent and that of the Netherlands Cabinet to the new order, transferring sovereignty by an Act of Confirmation.
  3. 3.Third, the Act of Transfer of Sovereignty and Recognition was promulgated and accepted.

Accordingly, a new chapter began for the nascent federal government in the form of the United States of the Republic of Indonesia (Republik Indonesia Serikat), and Soekarno was appointed as President. The newly adopted presidential system stipulated that “the President and Ministers together constitute the Government”.28 However, the President may appoint a Prime Minister as follows,29

  1. 1.The President, in agreement with the representatives of the regions referred to in Article 69, appoints three Cabinet members.
  2. 2.In accordance with the recommendations of the three Cabinet members, the President appoints one of them as Prime Minister and appoints other Ministers.

Hatta was appointed the first prime minister but his government did not last long, nor did the cabinets of the other prime ministers during this period. Herbert Feith notes there were at least seven cabinet changes during this period: (1) Mohammad Hatta, from December 1949 to August 1950; (2) Muhammad Natsir, from September 1950 to March 1951; (3) Sukiman, from April 1951 to February 1952; (4) Wilopo, from April 1952 to June 1953; (5) Ali Sastroamidjojo (first cabinet), from July 1953 to July 1955; (6) Burhanuddin Harahap, from August 1955 to March 1956; and (7) Ali Sastroamodjojo (second cabinet), from March 1956 to March 1957.30

Despite the frequent changes in the cabinet, Feith argued that the period was still one of constitutional democracy in Indonesia. He stated,

Was this, then, a period of constitutional democracy? I have argued that it was, in a particular sense. The system of politics which operated in those years and finally broke down had six distinct features characteristic of constitutional democracy. Civilians played a dominant role. Parties were of very great importance. The contenders for power showed respect for "rules of the game" which were closely related to the existing constitution. Most members of the political elite had some sort of commitment to symbols connected with constitutional democracy. Civil liberties were rarely infringed. Finally, governments used coercion sparingly. This represented, at the very least, an attempt to maintain and develop constitutional democracy.31

The Hatta administration was tasked with establishing the new government soon after the transfer of sovereignty. However, halfway through the administration’s term, the federation formed by the Dutch, comprising various states and regions, proved incapable of containing insurgencies within their domains. Consequently, these entities declared themselves dissolved and joined the state of the Republic of Indonesia. The climax was the dissolution of East Indonesia State, which had more essential elements of statehood compared to other regions in the federation.32 This dissolution was preceded by a rebellion led by Captain Andi Abdul Azis in Makassar in April 1950.

The idea of merging into a unitary state under the Republic of Indonesia began to gain traction. After several days of negotiation, an agreement was reached on 19 May 1950 between the Mohammad Hatta, the Prime Minister of the United States of Indonesia, and Abdul Halim, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Indonesia. The two agreed:

to implement in cooperation and in the shortest possible time the formation of a Unitary State which shall be a materialization of the Republic of Indonesia based on the Proclamation of 17 August 1945.33

Based on the above accord, a committee of 14 members was set up to draft a constitution for the new unitary state government. The committee had seven members representing the United States of Indonesia and seven representing the Republic of Indonesia. After almost two months of work, the committee succeeded in drafting a new constitution that did not deviate much from the 1949 Constitution of the United States of Indonesia. This was because the May 19th accord emphasized that the Constitution for the formation of the Republic of Indonesia as unitary state was temporary in nature. As a result, a Constituent Assembly would be formed through an election to draft a permanent Constitution.

The mechanism for approving the draft of the new constitution for the unitary state required submission to the respective parliaments of the United States of Indonesia and the Republic of Indonesia, but these parliaments were not given authority to alter the draft. This caused strong protests by each parliament when the draft was submitted at the end of July 1950. However, after long negotiations, each parliament ratified the draft on 17 August 1950, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of Indonesia’s Independence’s Day. In the parliament of the United States of Indonesia, the draft was approved by the House of Representatives with 18 votes and a unanimous vote in the Senate. Meanwhile, in the parliament of the Republic of Indonesia, the draft was approved by 31 votes to 2, with 7 members abstaining.34 In terms of regional division, the national government established 10 provinces: North Sumatera, Middle Sumatra, South Sumatra, West Java, Middle Java, East Java, Lesser Sundas, Borneo, Celebes and Moluccas.

map 1.3
map 1.3

Indonesia in 1950

source: george mcturnan kahin, nationalism and revolution in indonesia, 1952, p. 452

The adoption of the new constitution and the shift to a unitary state led to the end of the Hatta administration. The change from a federal to a unitary form of government caused a deviation from the Round Table conference agreement, which stipulated a federal government. However, this significant political shift did not receive much attention.

Hatta had previously expressed his preference for a federal form of government for Indonesia. However, given the history of Dutch colonial rule and the political developments that ensued, many Indonesians became wary of federalism. It was therefore deemed necessary to adopt a unitary form of government as an interim measure until the Constituent Assembly could draft a more permanent Constitution. Hatta himself wrote,

Although a federal system is, in fact, suitable for such a far-flung archipelago as Indonesia, and might be expected to strengthen the feeling of unity, the manner and timing of the move by the Netherlands Indies Government had aroused such antipathy toward ideas of federation that it was found necessary to make the change from a federal to a unitary state before a constituent assembly could be formed to draw up a definitive constitution.35

The enactment of the 1950 Provisional Constitution established a provisional parliament, which Miriam Budiardjo noted consisted of regional representatives as well as political representatives. She stated,

At its establishment it counted 236 members: 146 and 31 respectively from the House and Senate of the former federal Parliament, and 46 and 13 respectively from the Parliament and the Supreme Advisory Council of the Jogja Republic.36

However, the composition of political representation in the provisional parliament exacerbated the disparity between the political parties. As a result, mechanisms of parliamentary control over the government were often used as a tool to bring down the cabinet. Budiardjo commented that,

Two cabinets have been defeated as a result of motions. The Masjumi-dominated Cabinet of Natsir fell in consequence of the Hadikusumo (Nationalist) motion on the structure of the regional councils (February-March 1951). The fall of the Wilopo (Nationalist-Masjumi) Cabinet was precipitated by a motion on illegal land occupation in Tandjung Morawa (near Medan) moved by Sidik Kertapati of the Progressive Unity Group and supported in Parliament by the Prime Minister's own Nationalist Party (April-June 1953).37

Despite the cabinet’s efforts, its proposed agendas often faced obstacles in the parliament. As Logemann pointed out, there was still a lingering ideological competition in the parliament, which was a remnant from the revolutionary period. While the cabinet prioritized running the government, the parliament focused on imposing its ideological notions on the cabinet. As Logemann noted,

Under present conditions in Indonesia, we do not find a cabinet guiding the affairs of Parliament in implementing a political programme which has been approved by the nation, but rather a Parliament struggling to impose its ideological notions on the Ministry. Indeed, this attitude of Parliament seems to be in keeping with the conception of democracy as it evolved during the long struggle for independence. Broadly speaking, Parliament is still striving for the early and radical completion of revolution, whereas the Government is worried by the practical day-to-day issues which arise at every turn.38

One crucial issue during this period was the drafting of the Election Law. The purpose of holding elections was not only to establish a new parliament as a legislative institution, but also to install a Constituent Assembly with the power to draft a new permanent Constitution. The idea of drafting an election law had existed since the Hatta administration, but the draft law was only approved and promulgated on 17 October 1952.39 Elections were scheduled to be held on 29 September 1955.40

According to Herbert Feith, the 1955 elections may not have resulted in the desired political stability. Nevertheless, these elections had a significant impact on the political landscape of Indonesia. As he noted,

elections have had other consequences hoped for by the Indonesian leadership. Their value as political education was enormous; understanding of national-level politics by the people of Indonesia's villages was greatly increased. They have also produced greater understanding of village Indonesia in Djakarta and exposed a number of political and sociological myths previously accepted by social planners as well as politicians in the capital. They have tapped new sources of leadership and afforded representation to a number of social groups which previously had none. They have helped to strengthen all-Indonesian consciousness, by affording large group of people a sense of participating in the affairs of the nation. They have also been valuable from a foreign publicity point of view. The fact that they were held at all, and that they were carried through successfully, represents an important vindication of the case of the Indonesian nationalist against those who insisted that Indonesians were incapable of self-government.41

Nonetheless, despite the successful election, the adoption of the parliamentary system in Indonesia led to the emergence of seeds of distrust in political institutions, particularly political parties, which were founded not on ideologies but on the charisma of their leaders. As put by Ruslan Abdulgani,

The political parties of the present time are centred more in the personalities of their leaders than in ideologies. In the attitude they take towards the national government, our political parties are often still guided by an oppositional attitude, a relic of ways of thinking in dealing with the colonial regime. The efforts of political parties at this time seem to be centred mainly in struggles in Parliament and the cabinet. They still pay too little attention to activities among the people themselves.42

In the same vein, Sjahrir stated,

Political divisions between groups in Indonesia do not arise from differences in ideas on economic and social issues. On the contrary, the reason for the classification is personal enmity between individuals with followers from everywhere.43

In 1956, Soekarno put forward the idea of guided democracy as a solution to Indonesia’s political instability. In making his proposal in a speech famously titled “Let Us Burry the Parties”, he suggested the parties were hindering the nation’s progress, so a new system of governance was necessary.

the democracy I crave for Indonesia is not a liberal democracy such as exists for Western Europe. No! What I want for Indonesia is a guided democracy, a democracy with leadership. A guided democracy, a guided democracy, something which is guided but still democracy.… Our situation with respect to the party system is one of complete disruption. It is not healthy; it must be transformed entirely. Especially, if we want to build as people have in other countries I have seen, for example, in the Chinese People’s Republic, we must transform the party system completely. At the very least we must rationalize it and make it healthy.44

At the end of his speech, Soekarno said he had a “conception” that would be offered as a replacement for the parliamentary system. That conception will be discussed in the next section.

2.3 Guided Democracy Period, 1957–1965

On 14 March 1957, at 10.00 am, Ali Sastroamidjojo, the prime minister, returned the government’s mandate to the president. Just half an hour later, President Soekarno declared a state of emergency. Regarding this declaration, Legge wrote,

At the end of 1957 a new State of Emergency Law was passed to replace the existing Dutch measure under which Soekarno had declared a state of siege and war in March of that year. The state of emergency itself was extended by Parliament for a further year.45

After Ali Sastroamidjojo’s resignation, the political landscape in Indonesia was dominated by four main players: (1) the pki, (2) President Soekarno, (3) the Army’s central leadership, and (4) the civilian military movement at the local level. Meanwhile, all of the political parties, except the pki, had lost public trust at this point.46 Later, Soekarno explained his “conception” of government in response to his previous address. He first criticized the existence of opposition in the government, arguing that it was a model of democracy that was not in accordance with the Indonesian personality.

In this Western parliamentary democracy, we find the idea of the opposition, and it is this idea of the opposition which has made us go through hardships for eleven years, because we have interpreted this idea of opposition in a way which does not accord with the Indonesian spirit.47

Soekarno further explained that his conception of guided democracy would consist of two institutions, the Mutual Cooperation (Gotong Royong) Cabinet and the National Council. He said the Gotong Royong Cabinet would be a government that “should include all political parties and groups represented in parliament which have obtained a certain quotient of votes in the election”. The National Council, on the other hand, would have the objective “to assist the Cabinet with advice, whether such advice is requested or not, because the National Council is composed of representatives of or persons from functional groups in our society. Therefore, I regard the Council as a reflection of our society, while the Cabinet would be a reflection of Parliament”.48

The National Council would consist of functional representatives from community groups. Soekarno explained,

the National Council shall include a representative of or a person from labor circles, …; a representative of or a person from the peasants, …; from the intelligentsia, …; a representative of or a person from the group of national entrepreneurs, …; a representative of or a person from the Protestant group; a representative of or a person from the Catholic group; two representatives of the Alim Ulama; a representative of or a person from the women’s group; a representative of or a person from the youth; a representative of or a person from the 1945 Generation; a representative of or a person from the group which can express or set forth the problems of the regions. And …, I want this National Council to include the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Staff of the Navy, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Chief of the State Police, the Attorney General, and several Ministers who hold important portfolios.49

He also rejected the existence of a multi-party system and aimed at a one-party system, taking the example of the Soviet Union.50 Furthermore, Soekarno distanced himself from the adoption of the party system in the past.

On the matters of parties … I am not responsible. I wash my hands of all wrong, because it wasn’t I who ordered the existence of parties. Not I. In November 1945, a decree was issued to establish parties. Thank God, it wasn’t Soekarno who signed that decree.51

From a sociological perspective, Selo Soemardjan discussed the link between cultural influence and leadership characteristics. He argued the Soekarno’s notion of guided democracy, which led to a strong personal leadership, is in fact in accordance with the moral order of Indonesian society. Compared to the parliamentary democracy model, which emphasizes the separation of powers, Soemardjan asserted that guided democracy was more attuned to Indonesian culture.

The history of Indonesia is replete with kings, sultans, rajahs, and other absolute rulers whom society regarded as the mediators between this world and the cosmological powers that control the life of man and society. Thus, society entrusted to them all powers – social, religious, and political – and expected that the powers would be applied for the welfare of the society … In the cultural context of this belief system it was hard for the less sophisticated and non-Western-educated groups of Indonesian society to adjust to the Western democratic system of collective government, which imposed upon them a cabinet or an executive council composed of members representing political parties alien to the indigenous population.52

Soekarno’s guided democracy model was opposed by Hatta, who wrote an article headlined “Our Democracy” in the Pandji Masyarakat daily newspaper on 1 May 1960. Hatta argued that Soekarno’s ideas and actions clearly violated the constitution. According to Hatta, the first violation was that the President, who under the 1950 Constitution was not accountable and was not beyond criticism, appointed himself to form a cabinet. In doing so, he carried out a responsible act of government without bearing the responsibility for it. Soekarno justified this by citing an “emergency situation”. The second violation, according to Hatta, was when Soekarno dissolved the Constituent Assembly, which had been chosen by the people, before it could finish producing a new constitution. Soekarno then promulgated a return to the 1945 Constitution by Presidential Decree on 5 July 1959. Hatta viewed these actions as violations of the constitution and a coup d’etat.

In the final part of his article, Hatta revealed details of a debate he had with Soekarno regarding guided democracy. Hatta admitted that he was willing to give Soekarno’s system a reasonable opportunity to prove its effectiveness or inadequacy. Hatta conceded, “It seems good to me that Soekarno should be given a fair chance within a reasonable time to see if his system will succeed or fail. I have taken this position ever since our unsuccessful negotiations about two years ago.”

Hatta’s article can be viewed in the context of constitutional history. In 1957, after Ali Sastroamidjojo’s resignation, Soekarno declared a state of emergency under the 1950 Provisional Constitution, which was in effect at that time. The Constituent Assembly, which was tasked with drafting a definitive Constitution, had not succeeded at that point. Soekarno appointed Djuanda as the Prime Minister and formed the Working Cabinet (Kabinet Karya). Open discussions were held between the President and cabinet members in December 1958 and January 1959 to formulate the parliament’s composition, influenced by Soekarno’s concept of class representation in the National Council. Meanwhile, the idea of reverting to the 1945 Constitution was also openly discussed. On 19 February, the Working Cabinet decided to adopt the notion of returning to the 1945 Constitution and amending the electoral law to enable functional representation in Parliament.53

The 1945 Constitution was considered a more suitable legal basis for implementing Soekarno’s ideas because of its flexible nature. There are four very loosely defined systems of governance in the 1945 Constitution. First, the President is granted enormous power, including the power to make laws. Second, the House of Representatives (dpr) is a legislative body but does not have the power to impeach the President. Third, the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, mpr), an expansion of the dpr’s membership, embodies the people’s sovereignty. The mpr convenes every five years and has the power to enact State Guidelines (Garis-Garis Besar Haluan Negara, gbhn). Fourth, the Supreme Advisory Council (Dewan Pertimbangan Agung, dpa) is an adviser to the President, with its members appointed by the President.54

2.4 The New Order, 1966–1998

The guided democracy era came to an end with the failed coup attempt in early hours of October 1, 1965, blamed on the pki. While historians have extensively analyzed this incident and its fatal impact, this chapter focuses on the perspective of constitutional history. Following the failed coup attempt, Soekarno’s position as President became increasingly uncertain due to political pressure amid the ensuing liquidation of the pki. On 11 March 1966, Soekarno issued a mandate to Soeharto to restore political stability and security. This mandate is the starting point of a controversy and debate that have continued to this day. Despite the controversy, on 12 March 1967, Soeharto was appointed acting president by the Provisional mpr. On 27 March 1968, Soeharto was sworn in as the definitive President, and the New Order era began.

In an effort to gain legitimacy, the Soeharto administration held elections in 1971. Soeharto used an organization of so-called Functional Groups (Golongan Karya, Golkar) as his political vehicle. Golkar had been formed by the military to counter the influence of the pki during the Guided Democracy period.55 In terms of the Constitution, there was no desire from Soeharto to amend the 1945 Constitution. In fact, the New Order launched a campaign to enforce the 1945 Constitution as firmly and authentically as possible.

From a constitutional perspective, power arrangements can be interpreted in various ways, including to perpetuate power. The 1945 Constitution does not clearly state the model of government, whether it is a presidential or parliamentary system. This ambiguity is inherent in the 1945 Constitution because the constitutional system was designed based on the notion of the supremacy of the mpr. This uniqueness in the Indonesian constitutional design has give rise to many peculiarities, including what are known as “constitutional antics”.

The supremacy of the mpr is reflected in the Article 1 (2) of the 1945 Constitution, which states, “Sovereignty is in the hands of the people and is fully exercised by the People’s Consultative Assembly.” The meaning of this provision is further described in the Elucidation of the 1945 Constitution, which states,

People’s sovereignty is held by an institution, the People’s Consultative Assembly, as the embodiment of all Indonesian people (Vertretungsorgan des Willens des Staatsvolkes). The Assembly establishes the Constitution and determines the guidelines of state policy. The Assembly appoints the Head of State (President) and Deputy Head of State (Vice President). It is this assembly that holds the highest state power, while the President must carry out state policy according to the guide set by the Assembly. The President appointed by the Assembly is subject to and responsible to the Assembly. He is the “mandatarist” of the Assembly. He is obliged to carry out the decisions of the Assembly. The President is not “neben” (equal), but “untergeordnet” (subordinate) to the Assembly.56

In essence, the supremacy of the mpr means it is the highest state institution, serving as the focal point of all state power and representing the entirety of the Indonesian people as the holder of sovereignty.

Furthermore, the Elucidation of the 1945 Constitution mentions that although the President is not responsible to the House of Representative (dpr), but rather to the mpr, the position of the dpr is strong (kuat). The President must pay serious attention to the opinions and aspirations of the dpr. As elaborated in the Elucidation,

The position of the House of Representatives is strong. The House cannot be dissolved by the President (unlike the parliamentary system). In addition, all the members of the House are concurrently members of the People’s Consultative Assembly. Therefore, the dpr can always monitor the actions of the President and if the dpr considers that the President has seriously violated the state policy directives established by the Constitution or by the People’s Consultative Assembly, then the Assembly can be invited to convene a special session in order to hold the President accountable.57

The design of the governmental system according to the 1945 Constitution had the consequence of posing a threat to presidential power, in that the President could potentially be dismissed by the mpr midway through his/her term of office. Therefore, the president must have an interest in taming, or even completely eliminating, this threat. Significantly, the Constitution provides avenues for the President to subdue the mpr through political maneuvering antics.

Article 2 (1) of the 1945 Constitution states, “The People’s Consultative Assembly consists of members of the House of Representatives plus delegates from the regions and groups, according to the rules stipulated by law.” This provision implies that the president’s ability to control or eliminate the threat emanating from the mpr to his/her power depends on his/her proficiency in controlling the members of the mpr. This is possible because the President holds the power to make laws. As stated in Article 5 (1) of the 1945 Constitution, “The President holds the power to draft laws with the approval of the House of Representatives.” Therefore, if the President is able to overcome the dpr, he/she need not worry about any political threats from the mpr to his/her power. To achieve this, the President must first bring the political parties under his/her control, as the dpr membership is derived from political parties. Such tactics are permissible under the 1945 Constitution.

The situation described above was reflected by President Soeharto’s New Order regime. Soeharto was able to maintain his grip on power for more than three decades by using the “constitutional antics” avenue. One of his strategies was to reduce the number of political parties, allowing only two parties to participate in elections, along with Golkar, which was not classified as a political party. Soeharto engineered the coupling of a number of Islamic parties into the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, ppp) and non-Islamic parties into the Indonesian Democratic Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia, pdi), while ensuring that neither party would become too powerful. With this arrangement, the government used its power to suppress genuine opposition, so ppp and pdi were never able to win an election under Soeharto.

The New Order managed to limit the number of political parties within the constitutional sphere by taking advantage of the 1945 Constitution’s silence on the issue. However, the Soeharto administration did not stop there. To further ensure the President’s control over the Parliament, Soeharto appointed former military members to the mpr. Moreover, mpr members from regional and group representatives were also under the President’s influence. This was due to the arrangements of mpr membership being engineered by the government’s election law proposals. In short, this manipulation was a key component of the constitutional antics employed by the New Order.

2.5 The Reform Era, 1998–Present

In 1998, Soeharto resigned from the presidency, largely due to the people’s growing demands for political reform amid a devastating financial crisis. One of the demands was to amend the Constitution.58 In response, the mpr amended the 1945 Constitution, with several substantial considerations in mind: (1) maintaining the unaltered Preamble; (2) preserving the unitary state; (3) strengthening the presidential government system; (4) annulling the Elucidation and incorporating its substantial matters into the articles; and (5) adopting an addendum approach for the amendment process.59

Despite the efforts to preserve some elements of the original 1945 Constitution, the amendments were ultimately considered a fundamental revision due to the significant increase in the number of provisions60 and the introduction of new state institutions.61 As a result, the amendments had a significant impact on the constitutional system, which will be discussed in the next section by comparing it to the system in the 1945 Constitution before the amendments.

3 The Indonesian Constitutional Arrangement

The amendments to the 1945 Constitution, made by the mpr over 1999 to 2002, fundamentally changed Indonesia’s constitutional system. This is evident in the alteration of Article 1(2) of the Constitution. The amendments were not just editorial changes, as the original text read, “Sovereignty is in the hands of the people and fully exercised by the People’s Consultative Assembly.” The amended text now reads, “Sovereignty is in the hands of the people and is implemented according to this Constitution.” This signifies a conscious decision by the mpr to alter the system from one based on the supremacy of the mpr to one based on the supremacy of the Constitution.

In the realm of theory and scholarship, the supremacy of the mpr has given rise to differing opinions and interpretations.62 In constitutional practice, the mpr holds an Annual Session, where the main state institutions (the President, dpr, Supreme Advisory Council, State Audit Agency and Supreme Court) report to the mpr. This annual convention indicates that the mpr is the nucleus of all state power and distributes its power to subordinate state institutions.

Close scrutiny of the Elucidation of the 1945 Constitution reveals contradictory notions. On the one hand, the Elucidation rejects the idea of absolutism or unlimited power. On the other hand, it allows the mpr to have unlimited power beyond the control of any institution. The fact is that absolutism occurs not only when unlimited power is grasped by a person but also when it is held by a group of people.

According to Hamid Attamimi, the mpr has two qualities: as an institution that has the power to enact the Constitution and as the holder of the people’s sovereignty. Attamimi argues that, in terms of the former, the mpr is above the Constitution. Whereas in the latter quality, because it implements the 1945 Constitution, the position of the mpr is under the Constitution.63

Attamimi’s opinion raises significant concerns over the interpretation of the phrase “above the constitution”, as it could be misconstrued to imply that the mpr is not bound by the Constitution. In reality, the Constitution establishes a constitutional structure that centers on the supreme power held by the mpr, which fully implements people’s sovereignty, but lacks proper checks and balances in state institutions. As a result, the power of the mpr is essential for the power of the government but appears to be disconnected from the will of the people.64

It is worth noting that Attamimi’s opinion may be directed to the vision of the state (staatsidee), particularly in relation to the notion of an integralistic state put forward by Soepomo.65 This notion may have been influenced by Rudolf Smend’s integration theory66 and associated with organicism.67

During Soeharto’s reign, there was an attempt to reconcile the interpretation of the 1945 Constitution with the view of an integralistic state. This can be seen, in an example, in a book published by the State Secretariat on the Minutes of Meeting of the bpupk. After publishing Soepomo’s speech in full, the book’s editorial team deemed it necessary to provide notes on Soepomo’s speech.68 One of the notes states that,

The application of the concept of a corporatist state and an integralistic state in Western Europe shows excesses, namely the emergence of opportunities for authoritarianism and totalitarianism. This is clearly contrary to the concepts of kinship and togetherness, as well as harmony and balance, that are deeply rooted in Indonesian culture itself. As a result, the concept of an integralistic state underwent modifications when applied to the draft of the 1945 Constitution. Among the important modifications were the recognition of the rights of citizens and the right to regional autonomy.

Therefore, in the training material on the Guidelines for Understanding and Practicing Pancasila, the National bp-7 [Agency for the Development of Education and the Implementation of the Guidelines for the Understanding and Practice of Pancasila] uses the term “Indonesian integralistic” to distinguish it from “German integralistic” understanding.69

The claim that the modification of the integralistic state ideology includes protection of citizens’ rights and granting regional autonomy is merely a facade. In reality, fundamental rights and local autonomy are not adequately protected or guaranteed. Despite the regional autonomy policy, an integralistic view is evident in the centralized management of state power. The New Order government implemented a centralized system, giving the central government complete control over policies and decision-making in the regions. Local governments had limited authority in managing governance and development affairs in their territory.

The New Order also adopted a uniformity policy in regional development, disregarding cultural, custom and socio-economic differences in regional territories and local communities. This policy was reflected in the Regional Government Law of 1974 and Village Administration Law of 1979. However, the amendments to the 1945 Constitution paved the way for more detailed local government arrangements. The post-amendment Constitution states, “The local governments exercise wide-ranging autonomy”. The impact has been extraordinary, leading to a growing interest in establishing new local governments in many regions. Anne Booth has noted,

When Soeharto left office in May 1998, there were 27 provinces in Indonesia, compared with 12 in the early 1950s. Since 1998, one province (East Timor) has achieved independence, and seven new provinces have been created, all but one outside Java. Between 1995 and 2009, 37 new urban districts (kota) and 168 new rural districts (kabupaten) emerged.70

The emergence of a large number of new regions has resulted in a more diverse regional political situation. Nevertheless, this diversity may also lead to stagnation in the administration of local governance. As Horowitz has pointed out,

Indonesia is a thoroughly heterogeneous country, and local political balances are highly variable. The party fragmentation prevailing at the national level is often replicated, but in varying configurations, at the regional level. The task of a district head or mayor in multiparty regions is to put together a coalition that enables the executive to deal with what may be a plurality of competing interests in the region. Some such interests can render the devolved government ineffective.71

Given the high level of diversity in Indonesia, it is worth considering whether the Constitution can serve as a unifying element. One way to achieve this could be through the Constitution’s Preamble. By emphasizing a number of statements that outline the government’s agenda or declare specific principles,72 a preamble can play a role in unifying a population. A preamble often provides important guidance on a nation’s objectives and background, particularly in terms of how the constitution should be interpreted. In many cases, the political values formulated in the preamble are then reflected in the constitutional norms.

The Preamble of the 1945 Constitution contains a legal concept (rechtsidee) that consists of four important points. First, “The State protects the nation and all of Indonesia’s citizens based on the principle of unity by in order to achieve social justice for all its people.” This notion recognizes the importance of a unified state that covers and protects the entire nation, transcending individual and group distinctions. According to the Preamble, the state requires unity encompassing the entire nation as one. This is a foundational principle of the state that should not be forgotten.

Second, the state’s objective to provide social justice. Third, the Preamble emphasizes that the state is founded the principles of democracy and acknowledge the people’s sovereignty through deliberations. Therefore, the governmental system in the Constitution must be based on democracy and representative deliberations that align with the nature of Indonesian society.

The fourth main idea in the Preamble is that the state is based on the belief in One God, in accordance with a just and civilized humanity. Therefore, the Constitution must impose an obligation on the government and state institutions to preserve noble human values and uphold the moral ideals of the people.

The four key principles in the Preamble of the Indonesian Constitution form the foundation of the country’s governance. They are crucial to building a strong, just and prosperous nation that protects its citizens. The Preamble reflects the shared dream of many Indonesians for a unified and prosperous nation, despite their diversity. By upholding these principles, the Indonesian government can work toward building a more equitable and inclusive society.

Furthermore, the Constitutional Court’s role to sustain unity amidst pluralism in Indonesia cannot be overlooked. The Court which was established after the Constitutional Amendments has many contributions to the idea of consolidation through its decisions. This section will not discuss at length decisions of the Court in this regard since there will be another chapter in this book dedicated to it. But, at the very least 2 decisions that may be considered to serve as examples in the involvement of the Court. The first is in a decision on the constitutionality of law that prohibit former members of the Indonesian Communist Party from running for public office. The second is decision relating to state recognition of the status of a citizen who adheres to beliefs outside the religions formally stated in legislation.

At the beginning of the reform, lawmakers still adopted requirement to fill public office that were often asserted during the New Order. The law stated in terms of running for members of the dpr shall be prohibited for former members of the outlawed Indonesian Communist Party, including members of its mass organizations.73 This requirement was challenge to the Court. In its decision, the Court ruled that the requirement in the article was unconstitutional.74 The Court says, among others, that the provision is a denial to human rights. It is a form of discrimination based on political consideration. The Court also express,

the provision in Article 60 (g) of Law No 12 of 2003 … must be seen as no longer relevant to national reconciliation effort that had been the common determination of the Indonesian people towards a more democratic and just future. Hence, despite the majority of the Indonesian people believe on the involvement of the Indonesian Communist Party in the G.30.S incident in 1965 … the individual persons of the former Indonesia Communist Party’s and its subordinate mass organizations’ members must be equally treated without discrimination.75

The second example of the Court ruling is on the recognition of local belief. There are thousands of Indonesians who adhere various local or indigenous beliefs. Despite legally there seems no problem yet they tend to be treated unfairly officials, especially in regions where conservative views prevail. This is worsen with the requirement in the law on Demographic Administration.76 Petition for judicial review was filed by parties who were the adherents of local beliefs. The party claimed that the provision had cause to unfair and discriminative treatments. The identity documents, id Card and Family Paper, were needed to access public services, such as education, social service, and health care. The status of religion must be recorded and shall not be left blank. Yet, this caused people who adhered local belief unable to access governmental services unless they filled the list with one of the state recognized religions, which are Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The Court ruled that the term “religion” contained in identity documents list must be read as included local beliefs. The Court says, among others, that when the Constitution recognizes freedom of religion and belief, the implication is that to adhere religion and belief is an inherent right for everyone. Further, the Court also emphasize that the Constitution govern two things on religion, first is on religion as fundamental right and the other is on the State’s role to protect it.77

4 Conclusion

The idea of Indonesia as an independent nation has been a century-long journey that has culminated in its emergence as a strong and developing country. This idea was born from the desire to stand on one’s own feet and was fostered by nationalists in the early 20th century, including by those who became the nation’s founding fathers. Despite its diversity of cultures, races and religions, Indonesia stands upright as a melting pot with primordial sentiments, geographical continuity and religious ties serving as unifying elements, rather than as elements of division.

Throughout its history, Indonesia has experimented with various constitutional frameworks to accommodate its diversity. One way this has been achieved is by ensuring representation in political institutions that reflects the country’s diversity. Another way has been through experiments with the form of the state, such as considering the options of a federal or unitary state. Additionally, the country has implemented regional autonomy policies, including the expansion of new autonomous regions, to further accommodate the diversity of its population.

The big task ahead is to maintain this awareness and cultivate the spirit of Indonesia’s founding principles. Indonesia’s history has been marked by a tendency to rely on charismatic leaders, known as Ratu Adil (a just ruler), to guide the people to peace and prosperity from times of crisis. This reliance on charismatic leaders has often resulted in the neglect or lack of development of strong political institutions. As a result, political institutions have not developed a strong identity in the constitutional system. State institutions often change with the different systems that come and go. Moreover, political institutions are very dependent on their leaders. Consequently, when a leader is replaced, the institutional identity also shifts. This perception needs to change because institutional identity is much more important than maintaining a figure. Political institutions should be built to stand the test of time, lasting longer than a human generation.

Safeguarding the Constitution is vital in unifying the people and recognizing diversity. The Constitution should not be treated as a sacrosanct document, rather, it must remain to open interpretation, enabling sustainable implementation. As the highest law of the land, the Constitution is essential for maintaining Indonesia’s unity and stability, while upholding its diversity.


Speech by Indonesian founding father and future President Soekarno on Pancasila during the Meeting of the Investigative Body for Preparatory Work for Independence (bpupk) on 1 June 1945.


Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is a phrase from the ancient Javanese Kakawin Sutasoma, a poem by Mpu Tantular written in Balinese script in the 14th century. The quote ‘Unity in Diversity’ comes from pupuh 139, stanza 5, of Kakawin Sutasoma. See Dick van der Meij, Indonesian Manuscripts form the Islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 567.


The Indonesian Constitution distinguishes between “citizens” and “residents”. Article 26 (1) and (2) of the Constitution states: (1) Those who become citizens are native Indonesian people and people of other nations who are legalized by law as citizens. (2) Residents are Indonesian citizens and foreigners residing in Indonesia.


Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, “Indonesia at a Glance,” Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Vancouver, accessed January 22, 2023,!.


Umi Farisiyah and Zamzani, “Language Shift and Language Maintenance of Local Languages toward Indonesian,” (paper presented for International Conference of Communication Science Research (iccsr)), 2018.


According to the Religious Affairs Ministry, referring to data from Statistics Indonesia available at, retrieved on January 14, 2023, the religious composition of the Indonesian population is: 86.7% Muslims, 10.72% Christians (7.6% Protestants, 3.12% Roman Catholics), 1.7% Hindus, 0.77% Buddhists, 0.03% Confucians, 0.05% others. See also Saldi Isra and Pan Mohamad Faiz, “The Role of Constitutional Court in Protecting Minority Rights: A Case on Traditional Beliefs in Indonesia,” in Bertus de Villers, et al., Litigating the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in Domestic and International Courts (Leiden: Brill, 2021), 125.


Elisabeth Pisani, Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation (Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation, 2014), 9. In this book, Pisani, a British-American epidemiologist, journalist and author, notes the challenges of unifying a diverse nation like Indonesia, with its many islands and different cultures. She writes, “When the flamboyant nationalist leader Soekarno proclaimed the independence of Indonesia, he was liberating a nation that didn’t really exist, imposing a notional unity on a ragbag of islands that had only a veneer of shared history and little common culture.”


Nasikun, Sistem Sosial Indonesia [Social System of Indonesia] (Jakarta: Rajawali Pers, 2001), 33.




Phillip C. Jessup, The Birth of Nations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 56.


Adrian Hayes and Diahhadi Setyonaluri, Taking Advantage of the Demographic Dividend in Indonesia: A Brief Introduction to Theory and Practice (Jakarta: unfpa Indonesia, 2015),


Russell Jones, “George Windsor Earl and ‘Indonesia’,” Indonesia Circle 22, no. 64 (August 2007): 279–290,


Ibid., see also Robert Edward Elson, The Idea of Indonesia: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Akira Nagazumi, “Indonesia and Indonesians: Semantics in Politics,” Asian Profile 1, no. 1 (1973): 91–102.


Elson, The Idea, 4.


Ibid., 11.


Adrian Vickers, A History of Modern Indonesia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 79.


Malcolm Caldwell and Ernst Utrecht, Indonesia: An Alternative History (Sydney: Alternative Publishing Co-operative Ltd, 2008), 61.


Anthony J.S. Reid, The Indonesian National Revolution 1945–1950 (Hawthorn: Longman Australia, 1974), 10–11.


Ibid., 19–20.


Ibid., 21.


George McTurnan Kahin, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1952).


Ibid., 139.


Ibid., 155–160.


Audrey R. Kahin, ed., Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985), 8.


Amry Vandenbosch, “The Netherlands-Indonesian Union,” Far Eastern Survey 19, no. 1 (1950): 3–4.


“Charter of the Transfer of Sovereignty over Indonesia, Signed at the Round Table Conference, The Hague, 2 November 1949,” International Organization 4, no. 1 (February 1950): 176–177.


Homer G. Angelo, “Transfer of Sovereignty Over Indonesia,” The American Journal of International Law 44, no. 3 (July 1950): 572.


Article 68(1) of the 1949 Constitution of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia.


Article 74 of the 1949 Constitution of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia.


Herbert Feith, The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia (Jakarta: Cornell University Press, 1962), 69.




Ibid., 65. For further history on the East Indonesia State, particularly on Bali as part of the state, see Palguna’s epilogue to the biography of Tjokorde Gede Raka Soekawati in Arya Suharja et al., Laksana Manut Sasana (Denpasar: Sarwa Tattwa Pustaka, 2021). According to Soekawati’s account, Bali’s inclusion in the East Indonesia State was proposed as a means to prevent further bloodshed. Although there was an attempt in the Linggajati accord to expand the boundary of the Republic of Indonesia to include Bali, it was not successful. The states created by van Mook’s proposal, including Bali, ultimately chose to remain within the Republic of Indonesia. The idea of a federal state for Indonesia was temporary, as the states were reluctant to be tied together in the form of a United States.


Ministry of Information, Special Region of Yogyakarta, Republic of Indonesia, Jakarta, Ministry of Information, 1953, as quoted in Feith, The Decline, 69.


Ibid., 99.


Mohammad Hatta, “Indonesia’s Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 31, no. 3 (1953): 449.


M.S. Budiardjo, “The Provisional Parliament of Indonesia,” Far Eastern Survey 25, no. 2 (1956): 17.


Ibid., 19.


J.H.A. Logemann, “The Indonesian Parliament,” Parliamentary Affairs 6, no. 4 (August 1953): 350.


Herbert Feith, “Toward Elections in Indonesia,” Pacific Affairs 27, no. 3 (1954): 245.


Elections were scheduled to be held on two days, 29 September and 29 November, 1955, with the latter date chosen to anticipate places that were difficult to reach. However, based on available data, the elections on 29 September were carried out in approximately 85% of the 95,532 polling stations, Feith, The Decline, 425.


Herbert Feith, The Indonesian Election of 1955 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Interim Reports Series, 1957), 89–90.


Ruslan Abdulgani as quoted in Logemann, “The Indonesian,” 350.


Sjahrir, quoted in R.E Elson, The Idea of Indonesia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 183.


As quoted in Herbert Feith and Lance Castles (eds), Indonesian Political Thinking 1945–1965 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970), 81.


Legge, J.D., “Guided Democracy and Constitutional Procedures in Indonesia,” Australian Outlook 13, no. 2 (1959): 93.


Feith, The Decline, 548.


Feith and Castles (eds), Indonesian Political, 84–85.


Ibid., 87–88.




Daniel S. Lev, The Transition to Guided Democracy, Indonesian Politics, 1957–1959 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), 74–75.


Ibid., 72.


Selo Soemardjan, “Some Social and Cultural Implications of Indonesia’s Unplanned and Planned Development,” The Review of Politics 25, no. 1 (1963): 89.


J.D, “Guided Democracy,” 97.


J.A.C. Mackie, “Indonesian Politics Under Guided Democracy,” Australian Outlook 15, no. 3 (1961): 265.


Dirk Tomsa, Party Politics and Democratization in Indonesia: Golkar in the Post-Soeharto Era (London: Routledge, 2008), 35.


Elucidation of the 1945 Constitution on the System of State Administration, no. iii.


Ibid., vii.


There were six demands for reform that gained strength before and especially after the fall of President Soeharto in 1998, namely: (1) Amendments to the 1945 Constitution; (2) Abolition of the dual function of the Armed Forces; (3) Upholding the rule of law, respecting human rights, and eradicating corruption, collusion and nepotism; (4) Decentralization and fair relations between the Center and the Regions (regional autonomy); (5) Realizing freedom of the press; and (6) Realizing democratic life; see People’s Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia, Panduan Dalam Memasyarakatkan Undang-Undang Dasar Negara Republik Indonesia Tahun 1945 [Guidelines for Popularizing the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia] (Jakarta: General Secretariat of the People’s Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia, n.d.), 6.


Ibid., 25. Jakob Tobing, who served as the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee I of the mpr Working Committee responsible for preparing the draft amendment to the 1945 Constitution, referred to the five points of agreement as a “gentlemen’s agreement” reached among the various factions within the mpr at that time; see Rofiqul-Umam Ahmad et al. (editors), Building the Road to Democracy: A Collection of Jakob Tobing’s Thoughts on the Amendment of the 1945 Constitution (Jakarta: Constitution Press, 2008), 182.


The pre-amendment 1945 Constitution consisted of 16 chapters, 37 articles, 49 paragraphs, and 4 articles of Transitional Rules and 2 paragraphs of Additional Rules. The post-amendment 1945 Constitution consists of 21 chapters, 73 articles, 170 paragraphs, 3 Articles of Transitional Rules, and 2 paragraphs of Additional Rules, see Ibid., 77–78.


There are several new state institutions explicitly or implicitly mentioned in the post-amendment Constitution. Those mentioned explicitly include the Regional Representatives Council, the Constitutional Court, and the Judicial Commission. Implicitly mentioned institutions include the General Election Commission, the central bank, and the Presidential Advisory Council.


Padmo Wahjono concluded that the People’s Consultative Assembly is the only state institution that exercises the people’s sovereignty; see Padmo Wahjono (editor), Masalah Ketatanegaraan Indonesia Dewasa Ini [Current Issues of Indonesian Statehood] (Jakarta: Ghalia Indonesia, 1984), 78–79. See also Padmo Wahjono, Beberapa Masalah Ketatanegaraan di Indonesia [Several Issues of Statehood in Indonesia] (Jakarta: cv Rajawali, 1984), 83–84. Hamid Attamimi indirectly refuted Padmo Wahjono’s opinion above. In his dissertation, Hamid Attamimi said, referring to Soepomo’s opinion at the bpupk session of 13 June 1945, that the people’s sovereignty in the hands of the mpr was transferred to the President. Thus, in fact the President is the embodiment of the sovereignty of the people. This is because the power of state ’overnment which originates from the sovereignty of the people (which is fully implemented by the mpr) “flows” through the mandate given by the peo’le (mpr) to the President. This was also mentioned by Harun Al Rasyid in his inaugural speech as Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Indonesia, 29 July 1995; see Harun Alrasid, Pemilihan Presiden dan Penggantian Presiden dalam Hukum Positif Indonesia [Presidential Election and Replacement in Indonesian Positive Law] (Jakarta: Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia, 1997), 26–27.


A. Hamid S. Attamimi, “Peranan Keputusan Presiden Republik Indonesia dalam Penyelenggaraan Pemerintahan Negara Suatu Studi Analisis mengenai Keputusan Presiden yang Berfungsi Pengaturan dalam Kurun Waktu Pelita I-Pelita iv” [The Role of the President of the Republic of Indonesia in the Administration of the State: A Study and Analysis of Presidential Decisions that Function as Regulations During the Period of Pelita iiv] (Dissertation, Faculty of Law, University of Indonesia, 1990), 8.


Among them are the non-recognition of the people’s sovereignty in the hands of the people themselves and the formation of a totalitarian government; see Simanjuntak, 253–254.


Saafroedin Bahar et al. (editors), Risalah Sidang Badan Penyelidik Usaha-Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (bpupki), Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (ppki) 29 Mei 1945 – 19 Agustus 1945 [Minutes of the Meetings of the Investigative Body for Preparatory Efforts for Indonesian Independence (bpupki) and the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (ppki) May 29, 1945 – August 19, 1945] (Jakarta: Sekretariat Negara Republik Indonesia [State Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia], 1992), 26–36.


Werner S. Landecker, “Smend’s Theory of Integration,” Social Forces 29, no. 1 (1950): 39–48.


David Bourchier, Illiberal Democracy in Indonesia: The Ideology of the Family State (Routledge: Abingdon, 2015).


This note is entitled “Editor’s Notes About: Prof. Mr. Dr. Soepomo Regarding the Rights of Citizens and Integralistic States.” See Bahar,, 36–37.


Ibid., 37.


Anne Booth, “Splitting, Splitting and Splitting Again: A Brief History of the Development of Regional Government in Indonesia since Independence,Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 167, no. 1 (2011): 32.


Donald L. Horowitz, Constitutional Change and Democracy in Indonesia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 135–136.


Henc van Maarseveen and Ger van der Tang, Written Constitution: A Computerized Comparative Study (New York: Oceana Publication Inc.-Sijthoff & Nordhoff, 1978), 252.


See Article 60 (g) of Law No 12/2003 on Election for Members of House of Representatives, Regional Representatives Council, and Regional House of Representatives. The provision triggered judicial review case submitted by not only former members of the Indonesian Communist Party but also prominent figures like the late Ali Sadikin, former beloved Jakarta Governor and outspoken opposant to President Suharto and his New Order regime; historian cum educator, the late Deliar Noer; senior politician, Sri Bintang Pamungkas and many others who put a deep concern on the issue.


See the Constitutional Court Decision No. 011-017/puu-i/2003.


Ibid., p. 37.


See Law No. 23/2006 (then amended by Law No. 24/2014) on Demographic Administration, especially provisions contained in Article 61 paragraphs (1) and (2) and Article 64 paragraph (1) and (5).

Article 61 (1) contained provision which regulates that every Family Card (Kartu Keluarga) consists of list, one of which concerning (status of) religion. Meanwhile, paragraph (2) of the Article ruled that residents whose religions had not yet recognized according to legislations or those who adhered local beliefs, the (status of) religion should be left blank or unfilled but they must still be serve and their data are included in resident database. Furthermore, Article 64 (1) contained provision on information that must be filled in Electronic Identification Card (e-ktp), one of which was religion. While, paragraph (5) of this Article contained provision that was similar to provision in Article 61 paragraph (2) saying that status of religion in e-ktp for residents whose religion had not yet recognized according to legislations or those who adhered local beliefs must be left blank or unfilled but they must still be served and included in resident database.


See The Constitutional Court Decision No. 97/puu-xiv/2016.


  • Ahmad, Rofiqul-Umam, et al., eds. Membangun Jalan Demokrasi: Kumpulan Pemikiran Jakob Tobing tentang Perubahanuud1945 [Building the Road to Democracy: A Collection of Jakob Tobing’s Thoughts on the Amendment of the 1945 Constitution]. Jakarta: Konstitusi Press, 2008.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Alrasid, Harun. Pemilihan Presiden dan Penggantian Presiden dalam Hukum Positif Indonesia [Presidential Election and Presidential Substitution in Indonesian Positive Law]. Jakarta: Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia, 1997.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Angelo, Homer G. “Transfer of Sovereignty Over Indonesia.” The American Journal of International Law 44, no. 3 (July 1950): 572.

  • Attamimi, A. Hamid S. “Peranan Keputusan Presiden Republik Indonesia dalam Penyelenggaraan Pemerintahan Negara Suatu Studi Analisis mengenai Keputusan Presiden yang Berfungsi Pengaturan dalam Kurun Waktu Pelita i-Pelita iv [The Role of Presidential Decrees of the Republic of Indonesia in the Administration of State Government An Analysis Study of Presidential Decrees Functioning in the Period of Pelita i-Pelita iv].” PhD diss., Faculty of Law, University of Indonesia, 1990.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ave, M.B. “Tentang Asal-Usul dan Pemakaian Istilah Indonesia [About the Origin and Use of Indonesian Terms].” Bintang Timur, published August 23, 1964.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bahar, Saafroedin, et al., eds. Risalah Sidang Badan Penyelidik Usaha-usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (bpupki), Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (ppki) 29 Mei 1945 – 19 Agustus 1945 [Minutes of the Meetings of the Investigative Body for Preparatory Efforts for Indonesian Independence (bpupki) and the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (ppki) May 29, 1945 – August 19, 1945]. Jakarta: Sekretariat Negara Republik Indonesia, 1992.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Booth, Anne. “Splitting, Splitting and Splitting Again: A Brief History of the Development of Regional Government in Indonesia since Independence.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 167, no. 1 (2011): 32.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourchier, David. Illiberal Democracy in Indonesia: The Ideology of the Family State. Abingdon: Routledge, 2015.

  • Budiardjo, M.S.The Provisional Parliament of Indonesia.” Far Eastern Survey 25, no. 2 (1956): 17.

  • Caldwell, Malcolm and Ernst Utrecht. Indonesia: An Alternative History. Sydney: Alternative Publishing Co-operative, 2008.

  • “Charter of the Transfer of Sovereignty over Indonesia, Signed at the Round Table Conference, The Hague, 2 November 1949.” International Organization 4, no. 1 (February 1950): 176177.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cribb, Robert and Audrey Kahin. Historical Dictionary of Indonesia. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

  • Elson, Robert Edward. The Idea of Indonesia: A History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

  • Farisiyah, Umi and Zamzani. “Language Shift and Language Maintenance of Local Languages toward Indonesian.” Paper, 2018.

  • Feith, Herbert and Lance Castles, eds. Indonesian Political Thinking 1945–1965. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970.

  • Feith, Herbert. “Toward Elections in Indonesia.” Pacific Affairs 27, no. 3 (1954): 245.

  • Feith, Herbert. The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962.

  • Feith, Herbert. The Indonesian Election of 1955. Ithaca: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Interim Reports Series, 1957.

  • Hatta, Mohammad. “Indonesia’s Foreign Policy.” Foreign Affairs, 31, no. 3 (1953).

  • Hayes, Adrian and Diahhadi Setyonaluri. Taking Advantage of the Demographic Dividend in Indonesia: A Brief Introduction to Theory and Practice. Jakarta: unfpa Indonesia, 2015. eBook.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Horowitz, Donald L. Constitutional Change and Democracy in Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

  • Isra, Saldi and Pan Mohamad Faiz. “The Role of Constitutional Court in Protecting Minority Rights: A Case on Traditional Beliefs in Indonesia.” In Bertus de Villers, et al., Litigating the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in Domestic and International Courts. Leiden: Brill, 2021.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jessup, Phillip C. The Birth of Nations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

  • Jones, Russell. “George Windsor Earl and ‘Indonesia’.” Indonesia Circle 22, no. 64 (August 2007): 279290,

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kahin, Audrey R., ed. Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity from Diversity. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.

  • Kahin, George McTurnan. Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1952.

  • Landecker, Werner S. “Smend’s Theory of Integration.” Social Forces 29, no. 1 (1950): 3948.

  • Legge, J.D. “Guided Democracy and Constitutional Procedures in Indonesia.” Australian Outlook 13, no. 2 (1959): 93.

  • Lev, Daniel S. “The Transition to Guided Democracy.” Indonesian Politics 1957–1959: 7475.

  • Logemann, J.H.A. “The Indonesian Parliament.” Parliamentary Affairs 6, no. 4 (August 1953): 350.

  • Maarseveen, Henc van and Ger van der Tang. Written Constitution, A Computerized Comparative Study. New York: Oceana Publication, 1978.

  • Mackie, J.A.C. “Indonesian politics under guided democracy.” Australian Outlook 15, no. 3 (1961): 265.

  • Meij, Dick van der. Indonesian Manuscripts form the Islands of Java, Madura, Bali and Lombok. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia. “Indonesia at a Glance.” Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Vancouver. Accessed January 22, 2023.!.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nagazumi, Akira. “Indonesia and Indonesians: Semantics in Politics.” Asian Profile 1, no. 1 (1973): 91102.

  • Nasikun. Sistem Sosial Indonesia [Social System of Indonesia]. Jakarta: Rajawali Pers, 2001.

  • People’s Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia. Panduan Dalam Memasyarakatkan Undang-Undang Dasar Negara Republik Indonesia Tahun 1945 [Guidelines for Popularizing the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia]. Jakarta: General Secretariat of the People’s Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia, 2022.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pisani, Elisabeth. Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation. Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation, 2014.

  • Reid, Anthony J.S. The Indonesian National Revolution 1945–1950. Hawthorn: Longman Australia, 1974.

  • Sjahrir. “Political Conditions in Indonesia.” In R.E. Elson, The Idea of Indonesia: A History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Soemardjan, Selo. “Some Social and Cultural Implications of Indonesia’s Unplanned and Planned Development.” The Review of Politics 25, no. 1 (1963): 89.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The 1949 Constitution of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia.

  • Tomsa, Dirk. Party Politics and Democratization in Indonesia, Golkar in the Post-Soeharto era. London: Routledge, 2008.

  • Vandenbosch, Amry. “The Netherlands-Indonesian Union.” Far Eastern Survey 19, no. 1 (1950).

  • Vickers, Adrian. A History of Modern Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

  • Wahjono, Padmo. Beberapa Masalah Ketatanegaraan di Indonesia [Some State Administration Problems in Indonesia]. Jakarta: Rajawali, 1984.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wahjono, Padmo. Masalah Ketatanegaraan Indonesia Dewasa Ini [Indonesian Constitutional Problems Today]. Jakarta: Ghalia Indonesia, 1984.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Collapse
  • Expand

Courts and Diversity

Twenty Years of the Constitutional Court of Indonesia

Series:  Brill's Asian Law Series, Volume: 12