The history of modern Indonesian politics — represented by a series of political events in the post-1945 independence era to this day — has basically been characterized by a tug-of-war between nationalist and Islamic camps, the two largest societal elements in the republic.
The battle to gain influence and win the hearts and minds of the Indonesian public has always factored into general elections – obviously the most democratic arena to reap the fruits of months and possibly years of individual and collegial efforts to exert influence and promote each individual candidate’s program and each political party’s platform among the general public, in particular among those eligible to vote. The elections are organized in two tiers: the general election followed by the presidential election.
Ten general elections have been held since the country gained independence on Aug. 17, 1945. This year, the nation will hold its legislative election on April 9, and the presidential election on July 9.
All these elections, with all their various terms and practices, have been carried out under the banner of democracy.
The 1955 election, the only general election held under the Old Order government of president Sukarno, is still considered the most democratic general election ever held in the country, with 172 political parties vying. The 1971 general election, the first held under the New Order government of president Soeharto, saw the participation of 10 political parties, while the subsequent five general elections held under the New Order government were contested by a pared down pool of three political parties.
The euphoria of the 1998 reforms effectively restored political participation to the public as the 1999 general election was contested by 48 political parties. Their number, however, dropped to 24 political parties in the 2004 general election, but rose to 44 (including six local parties specifically for the Aceh electorate) in the 2009 general election. This year’s general election will be contested by 12 national parties and three local parties in Aceh.
Statistical data reveal that none of the Islam-based political parties have emerged triumphant in any of the past 10 general elections. Various surveys predict the same scenario in this year’s general election. The road to election victory will likely remain a bumpy ride for them.
This article first appeared in The Jakarta Post, a leading newspaper of Indonesia