Indonesia is an electoral democracy. In 2004, for the first time, Indonesians directly elected their president and all members of the House of Representatives (DPR), as well as members of a new legislative body, the House of Regional Representatives (DPD). Previously, presidents had been elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), then made up of elected lawmakers and appointed officials. The MPR now performs tasks involving the swearing in and dismissal of presidents and the amendment of the constitution, and consists of elected DPR and DPD members. The DPR, which expanded from 550 seats in 2004 to 560 in 2009, is the main parliamentary chamber. The 132-member DPD is responsible for proposing and monitoring laws related to regional autonomy. Presidents and vice presidents can serve up to two five-year terms, and all legislators also serve five-year terms.
Parties or coalitions must attain 25 percent of the popular vote or 20 percent of the seats in the DPR to nominate candidates for president. Voters for the DPR can select either a party list or an individual candidate, but under a December 2008 Constitutional Court ruling on that year’s Law on Legislative Elections, candidates are seated based on the number of votes they receive, regardless of their position on the party lists. The changes are expected to increase lawmakers’ accountability to voters and reduce the power of party bosses, while making it more difficult for women to gain seats. The results of the 2009 legislative and presidential elections were accepted by all parties, but there were notable problems with the voter lists; the General Election Commission (KPU) was ordered by the Supreme Court to recount the legislative election votes before allocating seats, and after five months of confusion over conflicting seat allocation rules, the KPU followed the Constitutional Court ruling. A new national census scheduled for 2010 is expected to correct many of these irregularities for future elections.
Staggered, direct elections for regional leaders began in 2005 and have generally been considered free and fair. Independent candidates were allowed to contest local elections for the first time in 2008, although Aceh’s 2006 governance law had already allowed independent candidates there as part of an effort to integrate former GAM separatists into the political process.
Corruption remains endemic. Indonesia was ranked 111 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s (TI) 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, and TI’s 2009 Global Corruption Barometer found the DPR to be the most corrupt institution in the country. The KPK’s successes in a series of high-profile cases in 2008 and 2009 raised public expectations that acts of corruption, even by senior officials, would be punished. However, critics have accused entrenched elites of attempting to weaken anticorruption institutions, citing the alleged conspiracy against the KPK that was revealed in November 2009, as well as a new anticorruption billpassed by the parliament and signed into law in September. The legislation dilutes the authority and independence of the KPK and the Anticorruption Court (Tipikor), where cases brought by the KPK have been tried since 2004. It effectively decentralizes anticorruption efforts, placing them under the jurisdiction of district courts. However, original articles revoking the KPK’s wiretapping and litigation powers—seen as key instruments of the KPK’s success—were removed by SBY before signing the bill into law. A controversial 2008 bailout of Bank Century has led to accusations of large-scale graft at the cabinet level. The Committee for Financial Sector Stability, led by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani and then central bank governor Boediono, initially authorized a IDR 632 billion ($70 million) financial rescue, but the final bailout figure, IDR 6.76 trillion ($650 million), was almost nine times the original figure; there were also allegations that some depositors had preferential treatment and questions of whether bailout funds were embezzled. In November the DPR voted to investigate the bailout; investigations were ongoing at the year’s end. The Bank Century case is widely believed to be an attempt to undermine the SBY administration by targeting Mulyani and Boediono.
Indonesia is home to a vibrant and diverse media environment, though press freedom remains hampered by a number of legal and regulatory restrictions. There is a large independent media sector, but strict licensing rules mean that thousands of television and radio stations operate illegally. Foreign journalists are not authorized to travel to the restive provinces of Papua and West Papua without special permission.In addition to legal obstacles, reporters sometimes face violence and intimidation. Journalist A.A. Narendra Prabangsa of the daily Radar Bali was murdered in February 2009 after publishing a series of articles on local corruption. Police arrested several suspects in May, and the case against them was still pending at year’s end. The Alliance of Independent Journalists reported a 30 percent decline in instances of violence against journalists in 2009.
Reporters often practice self-censorship to avoid running afoul of civil and criminal libel laws; Article 311 of the 2007 criminal code makes defamation punishable by four years in prison. In July 2009, a Jakarta court imposed a six-month suspended jail sentence on the writers of a complaint letter that was published in several newspapers and supposedly defamed a property developer. However, some court decisions have favored journalists in libel cases. In April, the Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling ordering the magazine Time Asia topay 1 trillion rupiah (more than $100 million) in damages for a 1999 story on the Suharto family’s fortune and embezzlement. And in September, a district court in Makassar acquitted journalist and press freedom activist Upi Asmaradhana of defaming a police official.
The 2008 Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) extended libel and other restrictions to the internet and online media, criminalizing the distribution or accessibility of information or documents that are “contrary to the moral norms of Indonesia” or related to gambling, blackmail, or defamation. Violators face a possible six-year prison sentence. Journalist and blogger Nurliswandi Piliang was charged under the ITE law in 2008 and appealed to the Constitutional Court, but the court upheld the law in May 2009.Also that month, Prita Mulyasari was arrested under the ITE law for allegedly defaming a hospital where she had been a patient by distributing a complaint about it to friends via e-mail. Her case garnered significant public attention, and she was ultimately acquitted in December; the hospital dropped a parallel civil suit after she appealed a judgment instructing her to pay some $20,000 in damages. Several other ITE cases emerged in 2009 for Facebook and Twitter usage.
Indonesia officially recognizes Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Members of unrecognized religions have difficulty obtaining national identity cards. Atheism is not accepted, and the criminal code contains provisions against blasphemy. The national government has often failed to respond to religious intolerance in recent years. Societal discrimination and violence against Ahmadiyya—a heterodox Islamic sect with 400,000 Indonesian followers—increased in 2008 after the Religious Affairs Department recommended that the group be banned. Seeking a compromise, the government banned Ahmadis from proselytizing, but the sect has been banned outright in several districts and in the province of South Sumatra. Some 130 Ahmadis remained in shelters in 2009 after sectarian violence in 2006 forced them from their homes in Mataram, Lombok. Separately, violence between Christians and Muslims in Poso continued to decrease in 2009, although underlying grievances and low public confidence in government remained unaddressed. The Wahid Institute reported 93 incidents of religious intolerance in 2009, a significant decline from the 232 cases recorded in 2008.
Academic freedom in Indonesia is generally respected. However, books deemed capable of inciting political instability are banned by the Attorney General’s Office, which also monitors the circulation of books.
Freedom of assembly is usually upheld, and peaceful protests are commonplace in the capital. Authorities have restricted this right in conflict areas, however. Flag-raising ceremonies and independence rallies in Papua are routinely disbanded, and participants have been prosecuted.
Indonesia hosts a strong and active array of civil society organizations, though some human rights groups are subject to monitoring and interference by the government. Moreover, independence activists in Papua and the Moluccas, and labor and political activists in Java and Sulawesi, remain targets for human rights abuses. Progress in the case of Munir Said Thalib, a prominent rights activist who died of arsenic poisoning in 2004 while on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam, stalled in 2009 when the courts upheld the acquittal of the former head of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), Muchdi Purwopranjono. No high-level official has been convicted in the Munir murder to date, or for any serious human rights violation since the fall of Suharto. The Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), which investigates abuses of human rights, is backlogged by thousands of public complaints. In December, Komnas HAM found that the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster had been caused by a human error, rather than by a natural disaster as the DPR and National Police had found in 2008. The mudflow has displaced over 45,000 people since 2006.
Workers can join independent unions, bargain collectively, and with the exception of civil servants, stage strikes. However, the labor movement is fragmented, and government enforcement of minimum-wage and other labor standards is weak. The 2003 Labor Law makes it difficult for employers to lay off workers, which has resulted in an increase in contract hires and a reduction in long-term employment and benefits. Domestic workers are currently excluded from labor law protections. A February 2009 report by Human Rights Watch found that many government officials continue to foster myths about the circumstances of domestic workers and deny widespread abuses.
The judiciary, particularly the Constitutional Court, has demonstrated its independence in some cases, but the court system remains plagued by corruption and other weaknesses. SBY made judicial reform a key objective after he took office in 2004, and he renewed his commitment following the revelation of the alleged conspiracy against the KPK in late 2009. Nevertheless, progress to date has been limited; while the president appointed well-known reformers to the positions of attorney general and chief justice of the Supreme Court during his first term, the Supreme Court remains the slowest of the country’s judicial institutions to reform. Low salaries for judicial officials and impunity for illegal activity perpetuate the problems of bribery, forced confessions, and interference in court proceedings by military personnel and government officials at all levels.
A number of districts began issuing local ordinances based on Sharia (Islamic law) in 2006. Many are unconstitutional, contradict international treaties to which Indonesia is a signatory, or are unclear, leading to enforcement problems. The national government and various parties have failed to take decisive action on the issue, apparently for political reasons. Many of the ordinances seek to enforce an Islamic dress code, Koranic literacy requirements, and bans on prostitution. For example, a bylaw passed in October 2009 by the West Aceh legislature prohibits women from wearing pants. Other measures are more extreme: in September, the Aceh provincial parliament passed legislation that, among other provisions, allows stoning for adultery and public lashing for homosexual acts. The law has not been approved by the provincial governor, and the newly elected Aceh parliament, inaugurated in October, was set to review the measure along with three others passed by the outgoing legislature.
The DPR and the Ministry of Home Affairs have the power to overturn illegal ordinances passed at the subnational level, and concern over the constitutionality of local regulations has not been limited to those based on Sharia.
Members of the security forces regularly go unpunished for human rights violations. These include ongoing low-level abuses in conflict zones like Papua, but they are largely related to land disputes and military involvement in illegal activities such as logging and mining. In September 2009, members of the outgoing DPR dropped deliberations on a military justice bill that would have required soldiers to be tried in civilian courts for criminal offenses.
Effective police work has proven critical to Indonesia’s recent successes in fighting terrorism, but the police force remains rife with corruption and other abuses, and officers have generally avoided criminal penalties. The head of the national police’s legal division revealed in August that approximately 350 officers are dismissed annually for rights violations. A June Amnesty International report found that over a one-year period, police gunfire had killed 50 people and injured 60 others, with little evidence to suggest that the suspects had resisted arrest. The national police issued a new set of law enforcement standards that month.
Detention laws are generally respected, but there are many reports of abuse aimed at female and minority detainees. According to a report issued by the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL) in August 2009, student activists are the most prone to arbitrary arrest, followed by farmers and journalists. Prisons have reportedly been significant recruiting sites for radical groups, primarily due to corruption and lax controls that allow the circulation of extremist media material.
Members of Indonesia’s minority groups face considerable discrimination. The problems of mining and logging on communal land and state appropriation of land claimed by indigenous groups are most acute in Kalimantan. Ethnic Chinese, who make up less than 3 percent of the population but are resented for reputedly holding the lion’s share of the country’s wealth, continue to face harassment and occasional violence.
Discrimination against women persists, particularly in the workplace. Trafficking of women and children for prostitution, forced labor, and debt bondage also continues, despite the passage of new laws and stricter penalties. In 2009,special police units were established in each province to handle cases of trafficking, sexual abuse, and violence against women and children, and to protect witnesses and victims. Abortion is illegal, except to save a woman’s life. Sharia-based ordinances in a number of districts infringe on women’s constitutional rights; it is estimated that over 150 bylaws discriminate against women and minorities. Critics have also suggested that a new health law endorsed by the DPR in September 2009 discriminates against homosexuals through articles specifying health careonly for married couples. In 2008, the DPR passed an antipornography bill that critics said would victimize women, in part because it applies not just to published images but to speech and gestures that “incite sexual desire.” Significantly, the measure invites the “public” to participate in the discouragement of pornographic acts, which could lead to extrajudicial enforcement. The Constitutional Court began hearing objections to the law in February 2009.Under a 2008 law, 30 percent of a political party’s candidates and board members must be women. While only 101 women were elected to the 560-seat DPR in 2009, this was an increase over the 63 who served from 2004 to 2009.