Indonesia's constitutional
history minefield of confusion

Ahmad Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The 1945 Constitution (UUD 1945) has gone through at least seven crucial phases since it was endorsed by the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (PPKI) on Aug. 18, 1945, just one day after the Declaration of Independence.

The original Constitution, which consisted of a preamble and 37 articles, was drafted by the country's founding fathers, including Sukarno, Mohamad Hatta, Wachid Hasjim, Maria Ulfah, Latuharhary Iwa Kusuma Sumantri and Chairul Saleh.

Since the beginning, the founding fathers had intended that the Constitution would serve as a temporary Constitution given the state of war the country found itself in at the time.

The second crucial moment was the adoption of the constitution of the United States of the Republic of Indonesia (UUD RIS) when the country became a federal state as a consequence of the Round Table Conference (KMB) between Indonesia and the Dutch on Oct. 23, 1949.

The UUD RIS, which consisted of 197 articles, was only applied between 1949 and 1950, when the country returned to being a unitary state on April 15, 1950.

The return to a unitary state marked the third phase in the country's constitutional history, with the adoption of the provisional constitution (UUD Sementara), which consisted of 146 articles. Under the provisional constitution, the government was led by a prime minister. Sukarno and Mohamad Hatta still served as the country's President and Vice President while Muslim scholar M. Natsir was appointed as the country's first prime minister.

Based on the provisional constitution, the country held in 1955 the first general election that was widely considered as being democratic.

The Indonesian National Party (PNI) was the winner of the election, followed by the Masyumi Party, the Nahdlatul Ulama Party and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

The general election, which was also participated in by members of the Indonesian Military (TNI), was to select members of the House of Representatives and the Constituent Assembly.

The Assembly was tasked with drafting a new constitution, a task Sukarno and the military eventually deemed it to have to failed to perform. Sukarno, who was supported by military chief Gen. A.H. Nasution, then issued a decree declaring a return to the 1945 Constitution.

Under Soeharto, who toppled Soekarno in 1966, Indonesia not only maintained the 1945 Constitution but also started to treat it as something akin to sacred.

The Constitution entered its fifth crucial phase in 1999 after Soeharto was forced to resign on May 21, 1998. The People's Consultative Assembly, whose members were elected during the 1999 general election, amended nine articles of the 1945 Constitution.

The most important change brought about by the first series of amendments was the limit on the number of terms a president may serve to two five-year terms from the previously unlimited number of terms.

The sixth pivotal phase was the second series of amendments to the 1945 Constitution which were passed by the MPR in August 2000. The Assembly amended and added some 25 articles during its General Session. Regional autonomy and respect for human rights were among the important issues covered by the amended articles.

The seventh and latest phase was the passage of the third series of amendments introduced last year. One of the 23 additional articles provides for a direct presidential election.

The Constitution will enter another phase today with the Assembly expected to focus on the fourth series of amendments, which has created heated debate among the members of the political elite.

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