Indonesian Democracy – History – Principle – Implementation

In general, Democracy is a form of polity where every citizen has equal right in making decision for their life. Democracy can also be interpreted as a form of governments that is held by citizens, or citizens have the sovereignty. Democracy lets the citizen to participate (both directly or represented) in formulating, developing and establishment of law.

Democracy came from Greek word of Democratia, which means “people power”. Democratia consists of 2 words, Demos (means people) and Cratos (means power). Democracy includes social condition, economy and cultures which allow political freedom and equality.

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Democracy According to Experts

Other than the general meaning defined above, there are also opinions from experts about democracy.

  • Abraham Lincoln: Democracy is a governmental system organized from people, by people and for people.
  • Charles Costello: Democracy is a social and political system of self-government with government power limited by the law to protect individual rights of the citizens.
  • Hans Kelsen: Democracy is a government by and for people. Those who implement state power are people’s chosen representatives who were trusted, that they will pay attention to people’s wishes and concerns in implementing state power.
  • Merriem: Democracy is government by people, especially the majority; a government where the sovereignty is on people and done by people, both directly or indirectly by a representative system which is usually done by free election periodically. Common people choose the sources of political authority. There is no distinction of class or privilege based on ancestry or tyranny.
  • Sidney Hook: Democracy is a form of governments where governments’ importany decisions directly or indirectly based on majority deals which are given freely by adult citizens.
  • John L. Esposito: Democracy is power from and for citizens. That is why, everyone has rights to participate, both actively involved and controlling policies issued by governments. Moreover, there is a clear separation between executive, legislative and judiciary elements in governments’ official institution.
  • C.F. Strong: Democracy is a governmental system where the majority of senators of citizens participate in politics based on representative system which ensures that the governments will be responsible of their actions towars the majority.
  • Hannry B. Mayo: Democracy is a common wisdom determined based on majority by representatives who are supervised effectively by people in votes which are based on the principle of political equality and organized in political freedom.
  • Samuel Huntington: Democracy is the most powerful collective decision-makers who are chosen by a fair, honest and periodical election. In that system, the candidates are free to compete to get voted, and almost all adult citizens can vote.

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There are long historical record of democracy in Indonesia, As follows:

Ancient Time

1. Rival system

This is the opposition of 2 extreme governmental condition. The first one is a monarchy, a governmental system where only 1 person rules. Monarchy was derived fro Greek word, means “ruled by one”. This position can be inherited in a family. When the power is seized by an individual person without any empathy to common people, it is called tyranny (from Greek history) or dictatorship (from ancient Rome history).

The other one is democracy. In theory, every adult citizen can influence governmental decision. Traditionally, it was common in small groups, but it was rare in more developed governments where a decision was made by 1 single person. Between those 2 extreme conditions, there is oligarchy (from Greek word, means “ruled by few people”). This means, only certain people (for example noble families) can vote. Even in Athens, where the democracy began, only a few people could vote.

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2. Athenian democracy (5th century BC)

Athens started to embrace direct democracy in 5th century BC. The Greek allies and colonies soon imitated it. Direct democracy has 2 precondition: the community should be small enough for citizens to attend debates and vote directly; and the economy should be good enough for the citizens to give spare time to engange in politics. In the ancient world, it means the people should have enough slaves to do most of the work, for examples attending households and working in fields. That time, both of the conditions were acceptable in Athens, since Athens was one of the richest polis

Moreover, Athens (and other polis as well) had this condition defining citizens: Citizens of Athens are males, with the age more than 18 years old, who were born to an Athenian father (after 451 BC the mother must be Athenian too). That time, the Athenian population included 50.000 of the defined citizens, 25.000 foreign traders, around 100.000 slaves, and free women and children. The total was about 300.000 people. So, the citizens who were able to vote was only 20% of the population.

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3. Roman democracy (5th century BC)

Since the 5th century BC, the citizens of Rome won the election right to choose their own member of the tribunes. In 287 BC, decisions made by the tribunes were given the status of law. The votes of phlebs (Roman citizens) were registered as decision of a tribe; therefore, each tribe did direct democracy to make a decision. For information, every Roman citizen is a member of a tribe since birth (or need to be included in one). Any citizens can attend assemblies.

Roman citizens voted orally until 139 BC. This system ended in the 1st century BC, where the republic was changed into an empire. Roman citizens were satisfied with foods and circuses more than politics.

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Middle Century

1. Scandinavian “Thing” (8th century AD)

In Scandinavia, there was an interesting example of democracy among small and primitive tribes. This is called a Thing. A Thing is a meeting of all free men in the tribe, to make decision in constituting tribal law. Today, the Thing became the names of parliaments: Iceland (Althing), Denmark (Foklething) and Norway (Storthing).

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2. Communes in Italy (11th-13th century AD)

Cities in Europe became prosperous in 11th-13th century. Northern Italy (Milan, Florence, Venice) was one of the first regions to grow prosperous, because of the trades between Mediterranean and northern Europe. However, northern Italy was politically crushed between rival claims of Imperial Germany in the north and the Pope in the south. Feeling threatened by the two major powers, the cities made medieval commune to control their own destiny.

In addition, between 1080-1140, towns in northern Italy (Pisa, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Milan, and Genoa) made municipal councils where they elected councillors (then called consuls). The republican communes grew wealthy and became independent. Since the Popes and Emperors were unable to control these communes, they authorized and legitimated this form of government. Moreover, the communes called the Popes and Emperors as feuds.

In early years of these communes, every male citizen could participate in the assembly called arengo. However, the democracy soon became oligarchy, where electoral power in the communes became restricted to some families. This process led to election of a mayor (podesta) to run city’s affairs. From 13th century, local oligarchs allowed a powerful leader to remain within a family, for example the Visconti in Milan and the Medici in Florence.

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3. Communes in other European countries (12th – 13th century)

The Italian urban communes was soon imitated in many parts of Europe because of some reasons. One of the reason was to compensate the feudal power. The second reason was colonization, where new towns in the regions was granted privileged by a ruler (this happened with VOC, a Dutch Trading Company in Indonesia). The
communes occured in rich towns of Europe, such as Ghent, Bruges, Arras in Flanders.

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4. Landsgemeinde in Switzerland (1294)

The forest districts in Switzerland adopted direct democracy from Athenian tradition. It was possible since the districts were smaller than other political units. Just like Athens, the districts were small enough for every adult men to walk to an assembly/meeting and vote. In Switzerland, the assembly was called Landsgemeinde (district community / district meeting). The earliest record of the meeting was in Schwyz, 1294.

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5. Parliament (12th – 14th century)

Parliament was derived from French word “parler” (means speaking); thus Parliament means a place for speaking. The idea began to expand from 12th century in monarchies of western Europe. It was developed from curia regis, or “council of the king”, a feudal court where the king made legal judgements and discusses important issues of the state with archbishops and nobles.

A parliament was summoned whenever the king needed it. Usually, a parliament was held in the royal court. Different from curia regis, parliament includes citizens who represented their wealthy towns. The citizens (burgesses) were the third estate, in addition to the 2 familiar in the court: the archbishops and the nobles.

The parliament system was soon adapted by kingdoms in England, Spain and Portugal. England is often called “the mother of parliaments” because of its unbroken parliementary tradition. Westminster Hall is the first parliament which declared its independence of the monarch (Charles I).

France was the first kingdom which establish parliament on a permanent basis, even the king gave the parliament in a chamber called “la chambre aux plaids” (pleading chamber). Now the chamber has been developed as Palais de Justice. The French parliament was restricted to the legal work, where all the Councillors are jurists and legal experts.

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6. Estates general in France (14th-15th century)

As mentioned above, in the medieval society there are 3 groups of people who have special power: the priests (bishops), the nobles, and the rich burgesses (bourgeois in French). These groups are known as three estates.

Delegates in any medieval councils represent their estates. The first estates general were first summoned by king Philip IV of France in 1302. Estates general continued to be summoned frequently in 14th century, then their influense gradually declined until the absolutism of French Monarchy led by King Louis XIV in 17th century. It was revived in early years of French Revolution. Then, estate general was adapted to other European kingdoms, such as the Netherlands, England, Sweden, Bohemia and

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7. Sejmiki in Poland (1493-1505)

There is a parliament in Poland which practised big power in 15th century; it is called Sejmiki (means “assembly / gathering”). It was originally a gathering of local gentry and burgesses to defend their interests. The first recorded sejmiki was called by the king in 1493. The royal purpose was to raise funds.

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Modern Era

1. Democratic Constitution (1788)

The Constitution of the United States of America in 1788 gave the world’s first formal record of modern democracy. George Washington was elected as prosident in 1789, and for second term in 1792. This type of democracy was still based on limited franchise, and the politicians were all from rich class
(Washington and Jefferson were southern slave owners). On the other hand, the new American democratic system would inspire other part of the world to a fully democratic future, for example in France (French Revolution was inspired by American democracy).

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2. The Reform Bill ( Britain, 1831-1832)

In Britain, people felt the need to reform. Before there was already Industrial Revolution in Britain, which brought out many burgesses. This led to the establishment of Reform Bill (1832), which stated that representatives in parliament should match the number of citizens, election rights are determined according to tax-paying, and the empty area should have no representatives.

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3. Representation of the people (Britain, 1833-1918)

In 1833, there were struggles to refine the parliament. It resulted in the Representation of the People in 1918, where the parliament consists of 2 elements: House of Commons and House of Lords. House of Commons is a representative of citizens, chosen by election from political parties. House of Lord is a representative of the
nobilities according to ancestry. House of Commons has bigger power than House of Lords.

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4. Votes for women (1848-1928)

Starting from 1848, women fought for their right to vote, since the old European law stated that women were a property of men. The struggles happened in USA, Britain, even Russia. In 1918, women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote in USA. An act of 1928 finally gave complete
equality between men and women. The rights to vote for women happened earlier in other parts of the world, for example in New Zealand (1893),
Australia (1902), Finland (1906) and Norway (1913).

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Democracy and Bureaucracy

Democracy is a condition of a nation where the government systems are made by people, people have the sovereignty. Bureaucracy is the whole government organizations who run the nation’s tasks in various organization units, under departments /non-departments institutions, both in the capital and provinces (includes cities and districts). The term “bureaucracy” came from French and Greek words: bureau (means office) and cratos (means power).

Democracy and bureaucracy are paradoxal complexes. Bureaucracy emphasizes effectivity and neutrality, while democracy emphasizes inclusivity and bargaining of policies.Bureaucracy emphasizes on output function of politics, while democracy emphasizes on input function of politics.

Delegation patterns from ministers to regional governments don’t give much room for citizens’ opninions about governments’ programs. That is why a new perspective for relations between bureaucracy and democracy appeared, called New Public Management.

New Public Management is new approach with purpose of cutting off the state’s rigidity of bureaucracy by increasing the chances for citizens to involve in public service activities, for example controlling officials and reporting them if they do any mistake in running governments’ programs.

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Principles of Democracy

Principles of Democracy is some basic points which must be present and obeyed by states who have democratic
governments. The principles of democracy are:

1. The state is based on constitution

A democratic state is a state whose governments and people create constitution as a base for managing the life of the nation. Constitution is a basic law applied in a state. Constitution functions to limit the power of ruler or governments and guarantee people’s rights. thus, the governments can’t be a tyranny to their people and the people can’t be anarchists in using their rights and fulfilling their obligations.

2. Guarantee of Basic Human Rights

Basic Human Rights are basic rights which every person has since the birth. These rights are the right to live, freedom of religion, freedom of organizations, freedom to vote, etc according to constitution in each country.

3. Freedom of organizations and issuing opinion

Everybody can gather and make identity by founding organizations. They can defend their rights and fulfill their obligations by those organizations. Democracy give chances to everybody to think and use their conscience to speak their opinions in good ways.

4. Government replacement periodically

The purpose is to limit the ruler’s power or sovereignty. Periodic government replacement can minimize misappropriation in the governments such as corruption, collusion and nepotism. The government replacements can be done by periodic election.

5. Free and impartial trial

Free trial is an independent court which is free from interference by other parties, including interference by government. Free trial is needed to find the truth and implement the law without discrimination (impartial).

6. Law enforcement and equality at court

Law is an instrument to uphold the truth and justice. That is why law enforcement should be equal, without discrimination. All things against the law should be punished. The equality of citizens at court will bring up the authority of the law. When the law has authority, the law will be obeyed by every citizen.

7. Freedom of the press

The press can be a media for people to distribute their aspirations and give critics and suggestions to the governments in making public policies. On the other side, the press can be a medium to socialize governments’ programs. It is expected that there will be good communication between the governments and people through the


Types of Indonesian Democracy

  • Parliament:

This is used in 1950-1959, with temporary law (UUD Sementara) as the base of constitution. This period is the golden period of democracy in Indonesia, because almost all elements of democracy could be found in political life in Indonesia.

  • Guided: 

After the end of election in 1955, president Soekarno showed discomforts towards political parties because political parties were oriented only to their own interests without taking care of national political interest. Guided democracy was a total inverse of parliament democracy. What was called “democracy” in this period, were
manifestations of president’s wills in order to place himself as the only highest powerful insitution in Indonesia.

  • New orde: 

Executive power rotation never happened, except in lower governments like governors, citi majors, district chiefs, etc. Even if there was any change, it was only in the position of vice-president. Political recruitments were closed. In a democratic country, all citizens who are able to qualify have the same chance to fill such political
position. But in Indonesia, the recruitment system was closed, only limited to representative’s members which were only 400 people. Filling the position in higher institutions of the state like the supreme court (MA), Audit Board (BPK), supreme council (DPA), etc were controlled fully by the president.

Election in New Orde was done 6 times, regularly every 5 years. But if we observe carefully, it was far away from
democracy. Since 1971, the election was made such so that Golkar always won the election with absolute majority.

1. Based on community initiative

Direct: It is democracy by taking decisions directly from each citizen without any representative. Each citizen has direct influence in the running politics. This can be used in small communities.

Indirect / non-direct: It is a democracy where each decision were taken from representatives. The citizens attend elections to choose their representatives who can submit their opinions in the councils.

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2. Based on fitting country

Representation with referendum system: 

It is a democracy where citizens choose their representatives for positions in parliaments, but those representatives are still controlled by people’s power.

Parliament representation:

There is close relation between executive and legislative institutions. The ministers who run executive power are chosen by legislative suggestions, so they are responsible to the parliament. The president or king is head of state, but he/she does not run the governments. Executive institutions have to do their tasks based on work programs agreed by parliament. If executive institutions run the tasks according to parliament’s programs, their positions will be stable and supported by the parliaments. If executives devy the programs, parliament can drop the cabinets using motion of no confidence, which means the ministers must leave their positions. Executive positions are below parliaments and depend on the supports from parliaments.

Dis severance of authority:

Legislative positions is separated from executive, so those institutions do not relate directly like in parliament democracy. The ministers are chosen by president, they have the position as president’s assistants, and they are responsible to president. The president is the head of state and head of government. President and ministers’
positions do not depend on the support of parliament and cannot be stopped by parliament.

Referendum system & community initiative:

It is the mix of representative democracy and direct democracy. The representative is still present, but controlled
by people, both by obligative referendum or facultative one.

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3. Based on ideology principal

  • Liberal:

In this system, we can say that an ideology, phylosophy, and political traditions are based on a comprehension that liberty and equality is the main political value. In modern people, liberalism will grow in democratic system, because both liberalism and democracy are based on freedom of majority.

  • Communism:

The pioneer of communism is Karl Marx. This system only embrace 1 party, declaring its faithfulness to communism. The system of the party is only a way to take control of power and oppose individual capitals. So, production tools are managed by the state to prosper the people equally, but in reality the profit is only managed by 1 political party. Countries with communism system are China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam.

  • Pancasila:

It is a democratic system in Indonesia, based on cultural values and discussion to point an agreement by prioritizing interests of all people. Pancasila democracy focuses on the importance, aspiration and conscience of the people. Until now Indonesia still uses this democratic system.

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Implementation of Democracy in Indonesia

In Ancient Time

Since prehistoric time, Indonesian tribes already used direct democracy for choosing their leaders and formulating the tribal laws. They discuss until the agreements are taken. This is called “musyawarah mufakat” in Indonesia. If the agreement still cannot be reached, then voting is the last option. Until now, this kind of democracy is still exist, but limited to tribes and small communities.

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Since the Independence at 17 August 1945, UUD 1945 (Indonesia’s first constitution) explained that Indonesia is a democratic country. President is responsible to the Representative Council, and the representative council is chosen by people. So, in hierarchy, the people are the highest rank. Indonesia ever had brief democracy in 1956 when Indonesia had the first election, until president Soekarno moved to guided democracy as a government system. After a false democracy in New Orde which was created to perpetuate Soeharto’s regime, Indonesia started the readl democracy in 1998 when Soeharto’s regime collapsed. The second democratic election for Indonesia was in 1999, when PDI-P party won the election.

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Democracy has been exist since ancient time. Although democracy guarantees freedom of speech and press, also human rights, it does not mean that people can force their own beliefs or religions to the other, claiming a nation consisted on just one religion, like what is happening in Syria and Indonesia. The freedom of speech now becomes too loose, where people are mocking the governments, no matter how good the governments are now. As younger generation, we should learn about democracy, so we can implement it in our lives and become good citizens.

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