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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK

Indonesia's overdue elections

Some election rallies have brought the capital Jakarta to a halt

By Jakarta Correspondent Jonathan Head

Jonathan Head reports on the run-up to Indonesia's elections
The elections in Indonesia are the most crucial in the country's history.

In this poll, 127 million Indonesians are deciding, to a large extent, what kind of government leads their country into the 21st century.

Indonesia Flashpoints
The last free election took place in 1955, just six years after Indonesia had won its independence from the Netherlands.

Since then, the country has been ruled by authoritarian leaders - President Sukarno until 1965, and until last year, President Suharto.

[ image:  ]
Six elections were held during Mr Suharto's rule, but under highly restricted conditions which guaranteed his party, Golkar, always won.

In any case the parliament was very weak. For 30 years, it did not initiate a single law, nor did it challenge Mr Suharto's power.

So this election is a new experience for most Indonesians.

Provincial representation

Forty-eight parties are competing for 462 seats in the parliament. They include 19 Muslim-orientated parties, four workers' parties, two representing Christians and a number of radical and nationalist groups.

[ image: Former Indonesian President Suharto governed for 32 years]
Former Indonesian President Suharto governed for 32 years
The seats are apportioned according to the parties' share of the vote inside each of Indonesia's 27 provinces.

There are 82 seats in West Java, the most populous province, and just 4 in Benkulu and East Timor. Around half the seats are on the main island of Java and half on outer islands.

Another 38 seats are already guaranteed for the military.

After the election, the 500-seat parliament will join 200 regional and other representatives, chosen by local parliaments and the National Election Committee, to form the larger People's Consultative Assembly.

[ image: His successor  BJ Habibie is the ruling Golkar Party's candidate]
His successor BJ Habibie is the ruling Golkar Party's candidate
The whole body must choose a new president and vice-president by the end of the year.

Given the number of parties contesting the election, none is likely to win an overall majority.

The three main opposition parties have promised to work together against Golkar, the party of former President Suharto.

The members of the new alliance - the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-Struggle), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the National Mandate Party of Amien Rais and the National Awakening party - have vowed to fight attempts by the old political elite to block reform.

Compromise candidate

Lengthy negotiations over possible coalitions will probably follow the election.

The final choice of president could well be a compromise candidate who may not be at the top of the big parties' lists.

In order to avoid clashes parties are allowed to hold rallies only every five days during the campaign period of 19 May to 4 June, and the rallies are supposed to be restricted to local districts.

[ image: Megawati Sukarnoputri addresses a crowd of PDI supporters]
Megawati Sukarnoputri addresses a crowd of PDI supporters
The rules are being widely ignored; at times parties have brought the capital Jakarta to a halt.

Few parties are campaigning on a platform of policies; a notable exception is the National Mandate Party (PAN) led by Amien Rais, which is running a sophisticated, western-style campaign.

Most rely on religious, regional or personal loyalties for their supporters.

The main players

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan)

[ image:  ]
The PDI is led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, who owes her enormous popularity partly to being the daughter of Sukarno, and partly to her struggle against efforts by Suharto to remove her as party leader in 1996.

The PDI-P is a secular nationalist party, with its stronghold in the cities, Java and Bali, and islands with large non-Muslim populations. For a profile of Megawati Sukarnoputri click here.


[ image:  ]
The party of former President Suharto is trying to present itself as a reformed organisation. But its choice of President Habibie as its candidate has done further damage to its already tarnished image.

Golkar campaigns in Java have often been attacked and the party is likely to fare badly there. But its close links to local officials will help it retain the support of voters in less politicised regions. For a profile of B.J. Habibie click here.

The National Mandate Party (PAN)

[ image:  ]
The PAN is led by Amien Rais, who won wide admiration for his support for the students who helped oust President Suharto last year.

An outspoken Muslim intellectual, he has moved away from his once radical Islamic views and now has a liberal, pluralist vision of Indonesia. PAN relies on members of Muhammadiyah, a nationwide organisation of orthodox Muslims, for support - Amien Rais used to be its chairman. But it has also attracted young, western-educated professionals, ethnic Chinese and Christians. For a profile of Amien Rais click here.

The United Development Party (PPP)

[ image:  ]
The PPP is one of only three parties allowed to function under President Suharto. Formerly an uneasy alliance of Islamic interests, it is now pushing more orthodox Islamic policies and has adopted the Ka'bah, the holy shrine in Mecca, as its symbol.

It faces competition from other Islamic parties but benefits from an existing network of branches across the country.

The National Awakening Party (PKB)

[ image:  ]
Backed by Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has more than 30m members, the party relies on the popularity and charisma of NU chairman Abrurrahman Wahid to win votes.

Its strongholds are in areas like East Java and South Kalimantan which follow NU's traditional, mystical brand of Islam. NU is opposed to any kind of Islamic government in Indonesia. For a profile of Abrurrahman Wahid click here.

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Internet Links

BBC Indonesian Service

Asia Society: Indonesia's 1999 Elections

Antara - Official news agency

Peoples' Consultative Assembly


President B J Habibie

Megawati Sukarnoputri

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In this section

Megawati elected vice-president

Analysis: Indonesia's dream ticket?

Analysis: New hope for Indonesia?

Analysis: Megawati's struggle for power

Indonesian poll sparks violence

Wahid faces economic mountain

Election drama: In pictures

Habibie bows out

Megawati confirmed Indonesia victor

The election in pictures

A carnival of democracy

The fragile archipelago

Golkar: the fisherman's friend

Battle for Indonesia's Islamic vote