Indonesia Table of Contents
Suharto, president of Indonesia since 1967
Courtesy Indonesian Department of Information
Indonesia's government is a strong presidential system. The president is elected for a five-year term by a majority vote of the MPR, and he may be reelected when his term expires. The only constitutional qualification for office is that the president be a native-born Indonesian citizen. In carrying out his duties, the president is the Mandatory of the MPR, responsible to the MPR for the execution of state policy. In addition to his executive authority, the president is vested with legislative power, acting in concurrence with the DPR. The president also serves as the supreme commander of ABRI. He is aided in his executive role by a presidentially appointed cabinet.
Between 1945 and 1992, Indonesia had two presidents: Sukarno from 1945 to 1967, and Suharto from 1967. Suharto became president in a process that, while ostensibly claiming to be constitutional, had as its main instrument ABRI's coercive force. The drama of Indonesia's first presidential succession was angrily played out against the dangers and murders of the months following the abortive 1965 coup d'état as the military and their civilian allies rooted out the PKI and began the dismantling of Sukarno's Guided Democracy. On March 11, 1966, under great pressure, Sukarno signed an order popularly known as Supersemar (Executive Order of March 11, 1966), that de facto transferred presidential authority, although not the office, to then General Suharto. A year later, on March 12, 1967, a special session of the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPR(S)) unanimously lifted its mandate from Sukarno and named Suharto acting president. At its March 1968 regular session, the MPR confirmed Suharto as its Mandatory, electing him Indonesia's second president. He was unanimously reelected in 1973, 1978, 1983, and 1988. Toward the end of Suharto's fourth term of office, the question of possible term limitation was raised and became an issue in the political dialogue of the fifth term. Although he remained uncommitted about accepting a sixth term (1993-98). Suharto responded directly to the issue, repeatedly stating that the right to determine who would be president resided in the MPR.
The term limitation question was embedded in the larger question of presidential succession in the event that Suharto chose to step down or declined to accept reelection. The term limitation question also had the effect of refocusing attention on the vice presidential office. Constitutionally, the president is to be assisted in his duties by a vice president, who succeeds in the event of the president's death, removal, or inability to exercise official duties. Although not constitutionally prescribed, it has been accepted that the president would present his own nominee for vice president to be elected by the MPR. Although only vaguely defined, the office diminished in importance since it was first held by revolutionary hero and federalist Mohammad Hatta from 1945 to 1956. Hatta's status was parallel to that of Sukarno, representing the concept of a duumvirate of authority (dwitunggal). After Hatta's resignation in 1956, the office remained vacant until 1973 when it was filled by Hamengkubuwono IX, the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The sultan's arrival in office symbolically expanded the militarybacked power base of the New Order, conferring on it the nonmilitary legitimacy of the traditional Javanese political culture. Hamengkubuwono's decision not to seek reelection in 1978 was interpreted partly as disenchantment with the military, which was unwilling to share authority with civilians. Adam Malik, a former minister of foreign affairs, was the last civilian vice president (1978-83). He was replaced in 1983 by low-profile General Umar Wirahadikusumah. In 1988 Golkar chairman Lieutenant General (retired) Sudharmono was elected vice president in an MPR session roiled by behind-the-scenes military politics of presidential succession. In the prelude to the 1993 MPR session, expectations about a sixth term for Suharto fueled new speculation about the vice-presidential selection. By early 1992, the PDI had preemptively announced its support for ABRI commander General Try Sutrisno.
Succession politics intervened in the 1988 elections when it appeared that in selecting a vice president the president might be signalling a successor, especially because he had hinted that he might step down before the fifth term ended in 1993. Important elements in ABRI's leadership were dissatisfied with the possibility that Sudharmono, an army lawyer and career bureaucrat, might be tapped, and the ABRI faction in the MPR refused to join Golkar and the regional delegates in nominating him. Furthermore, PPP leader Jailani (Johnny) Naro declared his own candidacy. The president was forced to make explicit his support for Sudharmono and his intention to serve out his term. Faced with this direct challenge by the president, Naro backed away from forcing a vote and Sudharmono became vice president by acclamation. The political drama of the 1988 vice presidential election foreshadowed the role succession politics would play throughout Suharto's fifth term.
Data as of November 1992
Indonesia Table of Contents