Guided Democracy in Indonesia

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Guided Democracy (Indonesian: Demokrasi Terpimpin) was the political system in place in Indonesia from 1957 until the New Order began in 1966. It was the brainchild of President Sukarno, and was an attempt to bring about political stability. Sukarno believed that Western-style democracy was inappropriate for Indonesia's situation. Instead, he sought a system based on the traditional village system of discussion and consensus, which occurred under the guidance of village elders.

Sukarno proposed a threefold blend of nasionalisme ('nationalism'), agama ('religion'), and komunisme ('communism') into a co-operative 'Nas-A-Kom' government. This was intended to appease the three main factions in Indonesian politics the army, Islamic groups, and the communists. With the support of the military, he proclaimed in February 1957, 'Guided Democracy', and proposed a cabinet representing all political parties of importance (including the Communist Party of Indonesia, although the latter were never actually given functional cabinet positions). Since then, there was no Western-style parliamentary democracy in Indonesia until the 1999 elections of the Reformasi era.


The Liberal democracy period, from the re-establishment of the unitary Republic of Indonesia in 1950 until the declaration of martial law in 1957, saw the rise and fall of six cabinets, the longest-lasting surviving for just under two years. Even Indonesia's first national elections in 1955 failed to bring about political stability.

In 1957, Indonesia faced a series of crises, including the beginning of the Permesta rebellion in Makassar and the army takeover of authority in South Sumatra. One of the demands of the Permesta rebels was that 70 percent of the members of Sukarno's proposed National Council should be members from the regions (non-Javanese). Another demand was that the cabinet and National Council be led by the dual-leadership (Indonesian: dwitunggal) of Sukarno and former Vice-President Hatta.[1]

In March 1957, Sukarno accepted the Army chief of staff General Abdul Haris Nasution's proposal for a declaration of martial law across the whole nation. This would put the military in charge, and would be a way to deal with the rebellious army commanders, as it would effectively legitimise them.[2]:243

In the face of a growing political crisis amid splits in the cabinet, Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo returned his mandate to the president on 14 March.

Establishment of Guided Democracy

President Sukarno made an official visit to the People's Republic of China in October 1956. He was impressed with the progress made there since the Civil War, and concluded that this was due to the strong leadership of Mao Zedong, whose centralisation of power was in sharp contrast to the political disorder in Indonesia. According to former foreign minister Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, Sukarno began to believe he had been "chosen by providence" to lead the people and "build a new society".[3]

Shortly after his return from China, on 30 October 1956, Sukarno spoke of his konsepsi (concept) of a new system of government. Two days earlier he had called for the political parties to be buried. Initially the parties were opposed to the idea, but once it became clear that they would not need to be abolished, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) threw its support behind Sukarno.

On 21 February 1957, Sukarno detailed his plan. Sukarno pointed out that at the village level, important questions were decided by lengthy deliberation with the goal of achieving a consensus. This model of decision-making, he said, was better suited to the nature of Indonesia than Western-style democracy. While deliberations at the local level were guided by the village elders, Sukarno envisioned that the president would guide them at the national level. The centerpiece would be a 'mutual co-operation' cabinet of the major parties advised by a National Council (Indonesian: Dewan Nasional) of functional groups. The legislature would not be abolished. Sukarno argued that under this system, a national consensus could express itself under presidential guidance.

As well as the PKI, the Indonesian National Party (PNI) supported Sukarno, while the Islamist Masyumi Party and the Socialist Party of Indonesia opposed the plan. There were demonstrations in support of it.

On 15 March 1957 President Sukarno appointed PNI chairman Soewirjo to form a "working cabinet", which would be tasked with establishing the National Council in accordance with the president's concept. However, since Masyumi, the largest opposition party, was not asked to participate in the formation of the cabinet, Soewirjo's efforts came to nothing. However, on 25 March, Sukarno asked Soewirjo to try again and gave him one week to form a cabinet, but once again, Soewirjo failed.

Finally, Sukarno held a meeting with 69 party figures at the state Palace on 4 April, at which he announced his intention to form an emergency extra-parliamentary working cabinet, and that "citizen" Sukarno would set it up. The new "Working Cabinet", headed by non-party prime Minister Djuanda Kartawidjaja was announced on 8 April 1957 at the Istana Bogor. Although the PKI was not included, several members were sympathetic to the party.[2] In fact, in theory, it was a non-party cabinet.

The National Council was established by emergency law in May 1957. It was chaired by Sukarno, with Ruslan Abdulgani as vice-chairman. At its inauguration on 12 July, it comprised 42 members representing groups such as peasants, workers and women, as well as the various religions. Decisions were reached by consensus rather than through voting. As a non-political body based on functional groups, it was intended as a counterbalance to the political system. The cabinet was not obliged to heed the advice given by the National Council, but in practice rarely ignored it.[4]

Meanwhile, the army was trying to enhance its role by establishing functional groups of its own. In June 1957 Nasution began trying to woo the parties' functional groups and managed to unite the veterans groups under army control. He also used martial law to arrest several politicians for alleged corruption, while regional army commanders restricted party activities, particularly those of the PKI, whose headquarters in Jakarta was attacked in July.

Following the failure of a United Nations resolution calling on the Netherlands to negotiate with Indonesia over the West Irian issue, on 3 December, PKI and PNI unions began taking over Dutch companies, but 11 days later, Nasution stated that the army would run these companies. This gave the army a major economic role.

Regional rebellions

The CIA along with the UK and Australian governments supported rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi during 1958. These were reactions to Sukarno's seizure of power, the increasing influence of the PKI, the corruption and mismanagement of the central government, and against the domination of Java.[5]

In September and October 1957, various rebellious army officers, including members of the Permesta movement, held meetings in Sumatra. They agreed on three objectives: the appointment of a president less in favour of the PKI, the replacement of Nasution and the banning of the PKI. Some of these regional rebels were subsequently accused of involvement in the assassination attempt on Sukarno on 30 November. On 10 February, rebels including army officers and Masyumi leaders meeting in Padang, Sumatra, issued an ultimatum to the government demanding the dissolution of the cabinet, elections and the adoption by Sukarno of a figurehead role. Five days later, came the announcement of the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) based in Bukittinggi, Sumatra. It was joined two days later by the Permesta rebels in Sulawesi.

Despite US support in the form of arms for the PRRI rebels, the Indonesian military defeated the rebels with a combination of aerial bombardment and operations by troops landed from Java. By the middle of 1958, the rebellions had been effectively quashed but guerrilla activity persisted for three years. Amnesty was granted to rebel leaders although their political parties were banned. Early nationalist leaders were discredited, including former Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir, who along with others was arrested in 1962.[5]

Return to the 1945 Constitution

The structure of the Indonesian government in 1962

In 1958, Masyumi and the Nahdlatul Ulama, which had split from Masyumi in 1952, called for the planned 1959 elections to be postponed as they feared a PKI victory. In September, Djuanda announced the postponement. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Assembly was still unable to reach agreement on the basis of a new constitution, and was deadlocked between those who wanted Indonesia to be an Islamic state, and those who supported the idea of the state based on the Pancasila ideology. In July, Nasution proposed returning to the 1945 Constitution, and in September, he resumed political activity.[2]:254 Sukarno quickly endorsed this idea, as the 1945 document made the president head of government as well as head of state and would thus be better suited to implementing Guided Democracy. Under the Provisional Constitution of 1950, the president's role was largely ceremonial, though Sukarno commanded great moral authority due to his status as Father of the Nation.

Gradually, the return to the 1945 Constitution gained support from the political parties, and on 5 July 1959, Sukarno issued a decree reinstating it and dissolving the Constitutional Assembly. Four days later, a working cabinet with Sukarno as prime minister was announced, and in July, the National Council and Supreme Advisory Council were established. Although the parties continued to exist, only the PKI had any real strength.[2]:254

Acronyms and economic chaos

In his Independence Day address on 17 August 1957, Sukarno laid down the ideology of guided democracy, later renamed Manipol (Political manifesto). This was later expanded into the ideology known as USDEK standing for the 1945 Constitution (Undang-Undang Dasar 1945), Indonesian socialism (Sosialisme ala Indonesia), guided democracy (Demokrasi Terpimpin), guided economy (Ekonomi Terpimpin) and Indonesian identity (Kepribadian Indonesia).[2]:267

On 25 August 1959, the government implemented sweeping anti-inflationary measures, devaluing the currency by 75 percent and declaring that all Rp500 and Rp1000 notes would henceforth be worth one tenth of their face value. Meanwhile, anti-ethnic Chinese measures, including repatriations and forced transfer to cities, damaged economic confidence further. However, by 1960, inflation had reached 100 percent per annum.

Rise of the PKI

In an attempt to strengthen his position in his rivalry with Nasution, Sukarno gradually became closer to the PKI and to the Indonesian Air Force. In March 1960, Sukarno dissolved the legislature after it had rejected his budget. In June, Mutual Cooperation House of Representatives (DPR-GR), in which the armed services had representation as functional groups, and a Provisional people's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) were established, with the PKI chairman, D. N. Aidit as a deputy chairman. The PKI was estimated to have 17–25 percent of the seats in the DPR-GR,[2]:256 and now had representation in all institutions of state except the cabinet. Despite actions against the PKI by regional army commanders, Sukarno repeatedly defended it. Sukarno also began pushing his ideology uniting Nationalism, Religion and Communism, which would become known as 'Nasakom'.

However, the army's successes in defeating various rebellions, including the PRRI and the Darul Islam movement in west Java meant that Nasution still had the initiative. Therefore, in December 1960, Sukarno established the Supreme Operations Command (KOTI), to ensure that the campaign to wrest West Irian from the Dutch would not be controlled by the military. Actual combat operations were to be directed by the Mandala command, headed by (future president) Major-General Suharto. The PKI, anxious to make use of the nationalism issue to cement it alliance with Sukarno, wholeheartedly supported this effort.[6] In June 1962, Sukarno managed to foil Nasution's attempt to be appointed armed forces commander, becoming chief of staff with no direct military commanding role, although he kept his position as minister of defence and security.

By 1962, the PKI had over two million members, and in March, Sukarno made two of its key figures, Aidit and Njoto, ministers without portfolio. That same year, the Irian Jaya (as west Irian was now called) issue was resolved with the Dutch agreeing a transfer to UN administration. It was later transferred to Indonesia after the controversial 'Act of Free Choice' in 1969.[7]

When, in 1963, the establishment of the state of Malaysia, incorporating the former British colonial possessions in northern Borneo, was announced, the PKI once again sought to exploit the issue and organised demonstrations in Jakarta, during which the British Embassy was burned to the ground. On 17 September, Indonesia broke off diplomatic relations with Malaysia, and shortly after, the low level conflict known as konfrontasi (confrontation) was announced. Later that year, the PKI began a "unilateral action" (Indonesian: aksi sepihak) campaign to implement the 1959–60 land reform laws, which led to violent conflict with NU supporters.

Meanwhile, the army became increasingly concerned with the domestic situation and began secret contacts with Malaysia, while obstructing konfrontasi. At the same time, both the Soviet Union and the United States began courting the Indonesian army. The Soviet Union was anxious to reduce the influence of the China-oriented PKI, while the US was worried about communism per se, and large numbers of Indonesian officers travelled to the US for military training. However, the PKI was also targeting the army, and was attempting to infiltrate it.

In early 1965, Aidit proposed to Sukarno the creation of "the Fifth Branch" (i.e. in addition to the army, navy, air force and police), made up of armed workers and peasants and the appointment of Nasakom advisers to each of the armed forces. This was a direct threat to the army. In 1965, Sukarno announced the discovery of a document allegedly written by the British ambassador, the so-called Gilchrist Document, which was touted as proof of army plots against the government.

End of Guided Democracy

During his 1964 Independence Day speech, Sukarno publicly denounced the United States. An anti-American campaign ensued in which American companies were threatened, American movies were banned, American libraries and other buildings were attacked, American journalists banned, and the American flag was often torn apart. Large anti-American propaganda posters were set up around Jakarta's streets. American aid was stopped.[8] In August 1965, Sukarno announced that Indonesia was withdrawing from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and in his Independence Day speech on 17 August, announced the Jakarta-Phnom Penh-Hanoi-Peking-Pyongyang Axis, and said that the people would be armed. On 27 September, Nasution announced that he opposed the "Fifth Branch" and the "Nasakomization" of the army.

On the night of 30 September 1965, six generals were kidnapped and murdered and a group calling itself the 30 September Movement seized control of the national radio station and the centre of Jakarta. Although the movement was quickly crushed by Suharto it marked the end of guided democracy and of Sukarno as an effective president. The New Order regime established by Suharto had its own ideology Pancasila Democracy.



  1. Simanjuntak (2003), Missing or empty |title= (help).
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ricklefs (1982), Missing or empty |title= (help).
  3. Ide Anak Agung, (1973) pp. 251–2.
  4. Lev (2009) pp. 37–43.
  5. 1 2 Witton, Patrick (2003). Indonesia. Melbourne: Lonely Planet. p. 29. ISBN 1-74059-154-2.
  6. Mortimer 1974, pp. 175–7.
  7. Simpson, Brad, Indonesia's 1969 Takeover of West Papua Not by "Free Choice.", USA: The National Security Archive, The George Washington University.
  8. Hughes, John (2002), The End of Sukarno – A Coup that Misfired: A Purge that Ran Wild, Archipelago Press, p. 21, ISBN 981-4068-65-9


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