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Indonesia’s 5 Levels of Government: National Government

Indonesia is a unitary state, not a federal state, where the power has been significantly decentralised since early in the democratic era. Under this system, much responsibility for managing issues of public importance was transferred to city and regency administrations, leapfrogging the provincial administrations. The most recent amendment to the Law on Regional Administration (Law 23/2014), however, has empowered the provinces, and no longer the cities and regencies, with regard to managing natural resources (mining, water, forests, etc.). I would expose the first level of the government and general political outline here and break down the rest of it in different posts.

Source: Australia Indonesia Centre

National Government

The head of Indonesia's hierarchy of administration is an elected president at the national level together with a fully elected two-chamber parliament. Following decentralisation, the national government retains exclusive carriage in four areas: foreign policy, defence, monetary and fiscal policy, and religious affairs. Authority in other areas is shared, for example, the national government is responsible for the tertiary education level, provinces for secondary schools, and city and regency administrations for primary schooling. On roads, there are national roads, provincial roads, local roads and village roads. Each level of government from cities and regencies up manage their respective hospitals.

General Political Outline

Indonesia is a secular country in the sense that its political policies are not necessarily derived from religious teachings and that it does not have a single state religion. However, religion does play a very important role in Indonesian society. Indonesian locals are obliged to adhere to one of the religions that acknowledged by the government (Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism), while atheism is not an option. With the largest Muslim population in the world, Islamic principles do play an important role in the nation's political decision making, but Indonesia is not a Muslim or Islamic state.

Political decentralization in the post-Suharto era has brought more power to the regional governments and this development implied that regional decision-making has become more affected by the regional religious context. In strict Muslim areas, implemented policies can include the regional banning of pork businesses or the obligation for women to wear the headscarf, while in Christian regions (located mostly in eastern Indonesia) such policies seem impossible to be implemented.

The Indonesian political system consists of three branches: Executive branch, Legislative branch and Judicial branch. The executive branch consists of the president, the vice president and the cabinet. Both the president and vice president are chosen by the electorate through presidential elections. They serve for a term of five years that can be extended once by another term of five years when re-elected by the people (hence, the total is 10 years). During these elections, they run as a fixed, inseparable pair, which implies that the composition of this pair is of great political-strategic importance. Important matters that are of influence include ethnic (and religious) background and (previous) social position in Indonesian society.

Indonesia's legislative branch is the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, abbreviated MPR). It has the power to set or change The Constitution and appoints (or impeaches) the president. The MPR is a bicameral parliament that consists of the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, abbreviated DPR) and the Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, abbreviated DPD). The DPR, consisting of 560 members, draws up and passes laws, produces the annual budget in cooperation with the president and oversees the general performance of political affairs. It is elected for a five-year term through proportional representation based on general elections. On the other hand, the DPD deals with bills, laws and matters that are related to the regions, thus increasing regional representation at the national level. Every Indonesian province elects four members to the DPD (who serve for a five-year term) on a non-partisan basis. As Indonesia contains 33 provinces, the DPD consists of a total of 132 members.

The highest court in Indonesia's judiciary system is the independent Supreme Court (Mahkamah Agung). It is the final court of appeal and also deals with disputes between lower courts. A relatively new court, established in 2003, is the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi), which monitors whether decisions made by the cabinet and parliament (MPR) are in line with the Indonesian Constitution. However, most of the legal cases in Indonesia are handled by the public courts, administrative courts, religious courts and military courts. In addition, a Judicial Commission (Komisi Yudisial) oversees the maintenance of honour, dignity and behaviour of Indonesian judges.

In the 2019 election, which was won by Widodo, he chose a conservative Muslim cleric, Ma'ruf Amin, as vice-presidential candidate. Amin is highly respected by most Islamic streams and this choice was a strategic one because religious tensions had been high in Indonesia in the year ahead of the 2019 presidential election. With Amin by his side, these tensions immediately eased. However, it did give rise to concern about the growing influence of conservative Islam on Indonesian politics.

After the election, the new president appoints a cabinet that usually consists of members from his own party, the coalition partners and non-partisan technocrats. To see Indonesia's current cabinet composition, go here.

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