Washington International Law Journal


Amber Dufseth


Post-Suharto Indonesia has taken steps to liberalize and codify the right of political association through a package of political laws passed by the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or "DPR") in 1999. International pressure and Indonesian mass demonstrations calling for political reform provided the impetus for the passage of the laws. Since this legal reform, the number of registered political parties in Indonesia has jumped from three to over one hundred. Moreover, the laws provided a legal framework for the 1999 general elections, which were widely recognized as free and fair. The initiatives, however, have had limited effect in the outlying provinces of Aceh and Papua, where political dissent and armed pro-independence movements are often violently subdued by the government. This Comment argues that the political laws' failure to protect the right of association can be explained by a number of constraints. The speedy passage of the political laws was driven by pressure from the International Monetary Fund and other loan institutions. Furthermore, the Indonesian elite who drafted the laws worked to limit political participation in order to protect their own interests. The political laws promote elite interests by requiring that parties who participate in general elections adhere to the principles of Pancasila democracy; in accordance with Pancasila, political parties must be national in scope and must not endanger national unity. These requirements act as barriers to the political aspirations of Acehnese and Papuans, who typically have strong provincial, but not national, support and often advocate for provincial independence. Despite the constraints in the existing laws, recent draft amendments to the political laws do not appear to expand the right of association. This Comment suggests several amendments to the political laws that might be made to better codify a full right of association in Indonesia. In the meantime, the Acehnese and Papuans' exclusion from the scope of the political laws is enforced by the Indonesian military, which plays an active role in suppressing Acehnese and Papuan dissent from central government policy. Ultimately, the political laws fail to provide measures for the legitimization of separatists' grievances in the political sphere, even if they are brought in a peaceful manner. Thus, the political laws seem to promise nothing more than an uneasy stalemate, institutionalizing an ongoing cycle of state-sponsored violence.

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