Election Violence

In Indonesia, election violence is described according to three distinct phases of its post-independence electoral history:

Orde Lama or Old Order from 1945 to 1966. The 1955 election was Indonesia’s first ever election. The election was initially planned for October 1945 but due to the nation’s instability was not finally executed until after Indonesia’s declaration of independence. No limit was placed on the number of parties who could run, leading to a total of 80 parties, organizations and individuals registering as contenders. Every citizen had the right to vote, including the military and police corps. President Sukarno (president of Indonesia from 1945 to 1967) issued a decree on July 5, 1959 to dismiss the parliament and Konstituante. He also formed new bicameral legislative agencies: Gotong Royong House of Representative (DPR GR) and a Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) — whose members were chosen by the president himself. The dismissal of the parliament and Konstituante in 1959 marked the end of Indonesia’s parliamentary democracy and the start of the era of guided democracy which had no election until 1971, after Suharto took office.

Orde Baru or New Order Regime, which saw a military general assume the presidency and introduce symbolic elections from 1966 to 1998 Since the start of President Sukarno’s Guided Democracy era, the number of political parties had been reduced to ten: PNI, Masyumi, NU, PKI, the Catholic Party, Indonesian Party (Partindo), the Murba Party, the Indonesian Islamic Union Party (PSII) and the Islamic Education Union (Perti). Those ten parties then joined the election during Suharto’s New Order regime.

In 1973, Suharto reduced the number of parties participating in the election to three. The Islamic parties were united to become the United Development Party (PPP), while the remaining parties were merged to become the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). Suharto’s own party, the Golkar Party, was unaffected.

Golkar won the next election in 1977, and it took the majority of the seats seats in the House of Representatives. Its political dominance continued until the regime was toppled in 1997.

Orde Reformasi or Reformation Order. This last period, with four elections held in 1999, 2004 and 2009, and 2014 is best understood as a period of transition, with the country institutionalizing the values of democracy. After President Soeharto stepped down from his throne, Indonesia had a lot of discussion on which direction its political system should go.

President Soeharto stepped down on May 21, 1998 and was replaced by Vice President B.J. Habibie. Thirteen months after Habibie took the presidential seat, Indonesia held its next election. The 1999 election was held faster than the five-year cycle due to high public demand for a new legitimate government and leadership. The first change the government took in this Reformation era was opening the chance for founding new political parties. The 1999 election was joined by 48 parties, 21 of them managed to require seats in the House of Representatives.

Under the old model of indirect elections in Indonesia, the pattern of violence was mainly characterized by conflicts among political parties, their supporters, local legislatures and the general voter.  Today, under the system of directly electing the president and heads of local government, branches of the General Election Commission (KPU) are among the main targets of violence and conflict.

A case study by the Carter Center investigating electoral dispute resolution in the 2009 election provides insight into issues that need to be addressed to maintain a legitimate electoral process. While relatively peaceful, the 2009 legislative elections were marred by difficulties regarding the voter register, with reports indicating that the 171 million-name register was riddled with inaccuracies. While the General Elections Law 2008 provides a mechanism for addressing alleged administrative and criminal violations, it does not provide any recourse for a judicial body to review KPU determinations of alleged administrative violations or KPU decisions involving citizens’ rights.

In Aceh, a power struggle between two political parties whose members were once part of the Free Aceh Movement led to shootings, grenade attacks, and destruction of property. In Papua, voter list inflation and ballot stuffing resulted in a voter turnout of 99 percent in more than half of the districts. In addition, the “noken” system of voting, in which community leaders engage in bloc voting for their communities, was used despite a decision by the Election Commission against it; the Constitutional Court had upheld the noken system in deference to customary law in both 2009 and 2012 judicial reviews.

The 2014 law ending regional direct elections was widely unpopular. Direct elections for provincial and district leaders began in 2005, often leading to tensions between the central government and local authorities. In June 2014, former Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar received a life sentence for corruption and money laundering related to his role in fixing rulings on contested district elections. Local direct elections are extremely costly and have led to electoral fatigue and increased local conflict.

In 2014, the three-week campaign period for the parliamentary elections commenced on 16 March. Whilst previous campaigns have largely been void of violence, the 2014 elections have already been subjected to uncharacteristic violent incidents.

In local elections, the contests are often intense personal rivalries for community power that can be highly emotive and, if not closely watched, can quickly turn violent. While religious and ethnic ties are accentuated by these tense races, to date they have not triggered any sectarian schisms. Many confrontations could be avoided in future polls by relatively simple changes in practices, policies and laws. Rather than being too small for national attention, these political battles matter to this large country because, since decentralisation, it is this level of public administration that has the greatest impact on the lives of citizens.



UNDP, Understanding Electoral Violence in Asia, 2011, http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/Democratic%20Governance/UNDP_elections_violence_AP.pdf.

Freedom House, Indonesiahttps://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/indonesia.

History of Elections in Indonesia, Jakarta Globe, 2014, http://jakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/archive/history-elections-indonesia/.

Melissa Reid, Conscience Vote: the human rights records of Indonesia’s presidential candidates, Right Now, April 3, 2014,  http://rightnow.org.au/writing-cat/article/conscience-vote-the-human-rights-records-of-indonesias-presidential-candidates/.

Resources :

PDF : Indonesia: Preventing Violence in Local Elections (International Crisis Group: Asia Report N°197, 2010)
PDF : Indonesia: Averting Election Violence in Aceh- (International Crisis Group: Asia Program Briefing N°135, 2012)
PDF : Bare-Chested Politics in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia: The Dynamics of Local Elections in a ‘Post’-Conflict Region (CRISE: Working Paper no. 37, 2007)
Link : Election violence news in Indonesia on Jakarta Globe
Link : Election violence news in Aceh on Jakarta Glove
Link : Violence unlikely to mar Indonesia election, analyst says (CNN: 2009)
Link : Indonesia: Violence overshadows elections in troubled Aceh province (Asian Correspondent: 2014)
Link : Indonesia 2013: A Year of Voting Dangerously? (International Crisis Group: 2013)


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