The legal basis of the Indonesian state is the 1945 constitution, promulgated the day after the August 17, 1945, proclamation of independence. The constitution was essentially a draft instrument hurriedly crafted by the Independence Preparatory Committee in the last weeks before the Japanese surrender. According to George McTurnan Kahin, whose 1952 book Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia was the pioneering study of modern Indonesian politics, the constitution was considered "definitely provisional." Provisional or not, the constitution provided structural continuity in a period of political discontinuity. Beginning with the preamble, which invokes the principles of the Pancasila, the thirty-seven articles of the constitution--ambiguous though they are--set forth the boundaries of both Sukarno's Old Order and Suharto's New Order.
The 1945 constitution was the product of a unitary republic struggling to emerge in the face of Dutch efforts to reestablish sovereignty and Islamic appeals for a religion-centered state. The constitution was not fully implemented when the transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands went into effect on December 27, 1949. The 1949 agreement called for the establishment of the federal Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI). Subsequently, a provisional constitution adopted in February 1950 provided for the election of a Constituent Assembly to write a permanent constitution. A rising tide of more radical nationalism, driven partly by perceptions that the RUSI was a Dutch scheme to divide and conquer, rapidly moved controlling political elites in the direction of a unitary republic. A Committee for the Preparation of the Constitution of the Unitary State was established on May 19, 1950, and on August 14 a new constitution (technically an amendment to the RUSI constitution) was ratified, to be in force until an elected Constituent Assembly completed its work. The new, interim constitution provided for a cabinet system of government with the cabinet and prime minister being responsible to a unicameral legislature. The president was to be head of state but without real executive power except as a cabinet formateur.
As the political parties wrestled ineffectually in the parliamentary forum, dissident ethnic politicians and army officers joined in resisting central authority and even engaged in armed rebellions, such as those occurring in 1950, 1956, and 1958-59. Sukarno assumed an extraconstitutional position from which he wielded paramount authority in imposing his concept of Guided Democracy in 1959. This move was backed by the senior military leaders whose revolutionary experiences had already made them suspicious, even contemptuous, of civilian politicians, and who were now dismayed by the disintegrative forces at work in the nation. The military moved to the political forefront, where they remained in 1992.
Sukarno sought to legitimize his authority by returning to the 1945 constitution. He would have preferred to accomplish this goal constitutionally by having the 402-member Constituent Assembly formally adopt the 1945 constitution. However, the Constituent Assembly, elected in 1955 and divided along secular and religious lines, could not muster the required two-thirds majority necessary to approve new constitutional provisions. According to political scientist Daniel S. Lev, the body deadlocked on two fundamental issues: the role of Islam in the state and the question of federalism. Furthermore, division on these issues meant that ideological consensus among the anticommunist parties could not be translated into effective political cooperation. As long as the Constituent Assembly failed to agree on a new constitutional form, the interim constitution with its weak presidency continued in force. Backed by ABRI and a large part of the public, which was impatient with the political impasse and failure to implement the promises of independence, Sukarno decreed on July 5, 1959, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the return to the 1945 constitution. Martial law had already been proclaimed on March 14, 1957, and Sukarno claimed that under martial law his legal authority stemmed from his position as supreme commander of ABRI.
As a provisional legal framework for a modern state, the 1945 constitution has proved to be extremely elastic, subject to broad interpretation depending upon the constellation of political forces in control at any given time. Other than outlining the major state structures, the document contains few specifics about relations between the citizen and the government, and leaves open basic questions about rights and responsibilities of citizen and state. For example, Article 29 states that "Freedom of assembly and the right to form unions, freedom of speech and of the press, and similar freedoms shall be provided by law." Subsequent laws enacted, however, did not fully carry out the fundamental rights of the individual citizen stipulated by the constitution. On the other hand, the document is an expression of revolutionary expectations about social and economic justice. Article 33 states that the economy shall be organized cooperatively, that important branches of production affecting the lives of most people shall be controlled by the state, and that the state shall control natural resources for exploitation for the general welfare of the people.
The political struggle from 1945 to 1959 over the constitutional framework of the state stemmed not from the ambiguities of the 1945 document or its heavy weighing of executive power, but over deep disagreements about the nature of the state itself, particularly the issue of federalism and the role of Islam. Once the common battle against Dutch imperialism had been won, the passionate differences dividing various nationalist groups about the future of Indonesia surfaced. The possibility of a federation of loosely knit regions was denied by the use of force--first in the crushing of the Republic of South Maluku (RMS) in 1950 and then the Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic (PRRI)--Universal Struggle Charter (Permesta) regional rebellions of 1957 to 1962. Although in subsequent decades the government was almost always sensitive to the issue of separatism, the existence of a unitary republic, expressed through a primary "Indonesian" national identity, seemed secure. However, the difficulty of integrating an Islamic political identity with the Indonesian Pancasila identity remained in force in the early 1990s.
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