Indonesia is governed by a constitution drawn up in 1945 and based on five principles: monotheism, humanitarianism, national unity, representative democracy by consensus, and social justice. These principles are embodied in the state ideology, Pancasila (a Sanskrit term originally referring to a Buddhist code of ethics). The constitution has undergone several revisions since 1999, and now provides for six principal organs of state: the Peoples’ Consultative Assembly (MPR), the presidency, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (DPR) and the Regional Representatives’ Council (DPD), the Supreme Court and the State Audit Board (BPK). Under Soeharto’s rule these institutions were subordinated to the presidency, the country’s highest executive office.

Parliament is strengthened

Since 1999 the DPR has grown in strength and the powers of the presidency have been curtailed. Tenure of the presidency is now limited to two five-year terms, and the legislative powers attached to the office have been reduced. All new laws must now be approved by the DPR, although the president retains the right to select the cabinet (in consultation with the DPR). Further constitutional amendments, passed at the 2002 annual session of the MPR, paved the way for the president and vice-president to be elected by popular vote in 2004. Before 2004 the MPR, the highest organ of state, appointed the president and vice-president directly.

During the Soeharto era the MPR comprised the 500-strong DPR (including 38 non-elected members of the military and police forces) and 200 regional and interest group representatives. It met every five years to sanction the Broad Guidelines of State Policy (GBHN) and to elect the president and vice-president. Since 2004 the MPR has been formed through a joint sitting of the DPR—with no appointments from the security forces—and the DPD. Elections to the DPR and the DPD are held every five years, with seats contested under a complicated system of indirect proportional representation that gives a disproportionately large number of seats to Indonesia’s outer islands.

The DPR, which now has 550 seats, has always had the right to initiate legislation, but never did so during the Soeharto years. Draft legislation is submitted to the DPR and passes through four stages: an explanation of the proposed legislation, a general debate, discussions between the relevant commissions and the government, and a final debate and vote. Any legislation that is approved is then sent to the president for enactment. The president can, however, make use of direct legislative powers in times of perceived national emergency.

The DPD consists of 128 directly elected representatives from Indonesia’s 33 provinces. Its formal powers are limited. It cannot pass or veto legislation, but can only propose bills to the DPR, discuss the bills and then monitor their implementation if they are passed. Furthermore, these roles are limited to legislation on specific topics related to the regions. The DPD is currently lobbying to have its powers extended.

Each of the 33 provinces is headed by a governor who is responsible to the president via the minister of home affairs and who represents the central government in his province. The central government has traditionally appointed governors, but from later in 2005 direct elections will be introduced for the office of governor.