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1999 - Legislative Elections

In mid-1997, Indonesia was afflicted by the Asian financial and economic crisis, accompanied by the worst drought in 50 years and falling prices for oil, gas, and other commodity exports. The rupiah plummeted, inflation soared, and capital flight accelerated. Demonstrators, initially led by students, called for Soeharto's resignation. Amidst widespread civil unrest, Soeharto resigned on May 21, 1998, 3 months after the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR had selected him for a seventh term. Soeharto's hand-picked Vice President, B. J. Habibie, became Indonesia's third president.

President Habibie quickly assembled a cabinet. One of its main tasks was to reestablish International Monetary Fund and donor community support for an economic stabilization program. He moved quickly to release political prisoners and lift controls on freedom of speech and association. Elections for the national, provincial, and sub-provincial parliaments were held on June 7, 1999.

The 1999 elections were the first democratic national elections since 1955. Local direct elections for governor, mayor, and bupati have been held on a rolling basis in all parts of the country since 2005. The political maturity of Indonesian voters, combined with extensive monitoring by civil-society groups, helped make all of these elections largely free of violence and fraud, despite great concerns beforehand to the contrary.

Citizens for the first time successfully changed their government through an open, transparent democratic process. In January the Parliament passed new legislation governing the election, political parties, and the organization of the MPR and DPR. The MPR is constitutionally the highest authority of the State and is charged with meeting every 5 years to elect the President and Vice President and to set the broad guidelines of state policy. It was composed of the elected Members of Parliament plus appointed representatives of functional and regional groups.

To be eligible to participate in 1999, parties had to be national in scope, with party branches established in at least one-third of the provinces and one-half of the administrative districts within those provinces. A reconstituted General Elections Commission (KPU) administered the elections. It consisted of 48 representatives of the parties and five government representatives. (To avoid perceptions of continuity with the authoritarian management of elections under the New Order, the Habibie government chose to fill these positions with members of civil society and academia.) Although this structure functioned well to signal a clean break with the past and a level playing field for all parties, it broke down both in the run-up to the elections (when many of the party representatives were off campaigning) and following the elections (when most of the 48 parties won few votes or seats and began making unfounded allegations of fraud and boycotting KPU meetings). Since 2002 the KPU has consisted of nine nonpartisan commissioners selected by the DPR from a longer list of candidates nominated by the president from civil society and academia.

The 1999 elections continued the New Order practice of a closed-list proportional-representation system with the provinces as the electoral districts for the DPR; thus, the districts ranged in size from four seats (in former Timor Timur Province, now independent Timor-Leste) to 82 seats (Jawa Barat). These were simultaneous elections for the national DPR and the provincial and local DPRDs; each voter used a nail to punch a hole in one of the 48 party symbols on each of the three ballots. These legislative elections were followed by the presidential selection process within the MPR in October. Governors, mayors, and bupatis were selected by their respective DPRD.

Under considerable public and political pressure, the KPU went forward with plans to hold the election on June 7, despite inadequate technical preparations and remaining ambiguities in the regulations. Numerous technical problems resulted, particularly in remote districts throughout the country, including inadequate supplies of ballots and reporting forms, poor training of poll workers, confusion over procedures, and a lack of funds to pay poll workers. These problems contributed to a substantial delay in vote counting. There were numerous, and in some cases credible, allegations of vote buying in Sulawesi, mostly directed at the ruling Golkar party, which opposition parties saw as gaining advantage from longstanding patronage and civil service networks.

There also were scattered allegations of voter intimidation, particularly in rural areas. Opposition parties in Sulawesi alleged that Golkar cadres threatened the physical safety of residents. The Government and others alleged that supporters of Acehnese separatism actively were discouraging residents to register. It is believed that this pressure, combined with a sense of alienation and apathy, was responsible for lower turnouts in Aceh.

Under a doctrine known as dual function, the military assumes a significant sociopolitical as well as a security role. Members of the military are allotted 38 unelected seats in the DPR, and 10 percent of the seats in provincial and district parliaments, in partial compensation for not being permitted to vote. The other 92 percent of national and 90 percent of regional parliamentary seats are filled through elections held every 5 years.

More than 93 percent of the electorate nationwide voted in the June parliamentary election, ranging from a low of 70 percent in Aceh to 109 percent in Maluku (the reasons for this figure are still under investigation). The poor security situation, voter apathy and a desire among some citizens to boycott the election contributed to the relatively low voter turnout in Aceh, which was about 50 percent across Aceh, far below the national average. Turnout was less than 5 percent in several troubled districts. A halfhearted effort to organize a boycott appears to have had little impact in East Timor, where more than 94 percent of the electorate voted.

International and domestic monitoring groups and the major political parties accepted the June 7 parliamentary election as generally free and fair, notwithstanding many technical problems and irregularities. Parties organized and campaigned without government interference and candidates were able to express their views freely.

In general monitoring groups and political parties concluded that irregularities were neither systematic nor sufficiently widespread to call into question the overall results of the election at the national level. The atmosphere in polling sites was transparent and even celebratory. The election campaign itself generally was free of violence; however, there were a few isolated outbreaks, such as on June 4 in Jakarta, when Golkar cadres were attacked in various areas of the city. In Aceh a soldier was shot and killed while guarding a polling station.

For the national parliament, Parti Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle led by Sukarno's daughter Megawati Soekarnoputri) came in first with 33.7 percent of the vote (153 DPR seats), followed by Golkar ("functional groups" party of the government) with 22.4 percent (120 seats), Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party led by Abdurrahman Wahid) with 17.44 percent (51 seats), Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party led by Hamzah Haz) 10.68%(58 seats), the National Mandate Party (PAN) with 7.1 percent (35 seats), and the Crescent and Star Party (PBB) with 1.9 percent (14 seats). In addition 5 parties won between 2 and 7 seats and 10 parties won 1 seat each. Because of the pattern of voting district distribution, parties that were stronger in the less populous outer islands (e.g., Golkar and the PPP) won more seats relative to their strength in percentage terms than parties stronger in the populous islands of Java and Bali (e.g., the PDI-P and the PKB).

In October 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly, which consists of the 500-member Parliament plus 200 appointed members, elected Abdurrahman Wahid as President, and Megawati Soekarnoputri as Vice President, for 5-year terms. Wahid named his first Cabinet in early November 1999 and a reshuffled, second Cabinet in August 2000.




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