The Weakening of Political Opposition in Indonesia

Indonesia, as the third largest democracy in the world, has experienced various changes in its political dynamics since the Reformation era.

Indonesia, as the third largest democracy in the world, has experienced various changes in its political dynamics since the Reformation era. The democratic system in Indonesia was marked by the promulgation of the 1945 Constitution. Since then, power has been in the hands of the people. They directly or indirectly have the control to decide the laws, policies, leadership, and other important actions of a country or government.

At the beginning of the implementation of the system that was considered to represent the voice of the people, it experienced a complicated journey. Democracy during the periods of Parliamentary Democracy (1945-1959), Guided Democracy (1959-1965) and Pancasila Democracy (1966-1998) did not run smoothly. The development of political parties in Indonesia based on these three periods shows various dynamics.

During Liberal Democracy (Old Order), Indonesia used a parliamentary system of government in which the parliament (House of Representatives) had great power, causing political parties to be very influential in the government. The House of Representatives could give a vote of no confidence to the cabinet, which resulted in frequent cabinet changes of up to seven times. This created instability in government, exacerbated by the multiparty system that allowed many political parties to compete for power.

However, the situation changed drastically during the Guided Democracy (Old Order) under Soekarno, when the role of political parties declined drastically as the president held full power and was authoritarian, so political parties did not have much influence in the government. Soekarno’s domination of power made the government more stable, but reduced the quality of democracy due to the minimal role of political parties in the decision-making process.

This change continued into the New Order period, where Soeharto took full control of the government by limiting the role of political parties, creating a political system that was tightly controlled by the government. Political parties were limited to three: The United Development Party (PPP), the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), and the Golongan Karya Party (Golkar), which served as the Soeharto administration’s political machine to perpetuate its power. Although seemingly stable, the highly centralized power of the president came at the expense of political freedom and democracy.

Eventually, democratic conditions in Indonesia began to improve after Soeharto stepped down from a 32-year reign dominated by one party (Golkar). Indonesia returned to a democratic system with greater political freedom during the Reformation period. Many policies were changed and improved because they were not in line with democratic principles, which also changed the party system in Indonesia. The multiparty system was revived, with many parties participating in elections, reflecting various political interests and ideologies.

The role of political parties with a multiparty system became a forum to channel the aspirations of the people in the Reformation era. The multiparty system is considered more capable of reflecting the diversity of political aspirations compared to a two-party system, let alone a single-party system as happened during the New Order era. However, despite progress in some aspects, the weakening of the political opposition has become an increasingly visible phenomenon. Then, how do Indonesia’s political dynamics affect the weakening role of the opposition?

Definition and Role of Opposition in Democracy

Opposition can be defined as a group that acts as an opponent or opposition to the ruling government. They operate outside the government structure and voice views that differ from the policies being implemented by the government. However, the role of the opposition in a democracy is more than just dissenting or opposing. The opposition is expected to improve the quality of policies by providing alternative thinking and representing aspirations that may not have been heard in the government decision process.

Indonesia’s multiparty system allows political parties to be either inside (coalition) or outside (opposition) the government. The opposition tends to have different views from the government to prevent its arbitrary use of power. In principle, a healthy democracy requires checks and balances to control the branches of state power.

Coalition and opposition are not strictly regulated in the Indonesian constitution. Their role can be played through the House of Representatives as the legislature. Through amendments to the 1945 Constitution after the New Order, the House of Representatives has a new format in which its role and authority are vis a vis the executive. Strengthening the House of Representatives and limiting the powers of the president strengthened the checks and balances mechanism in the Indonesian government.

During the ten years under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the role of the opposition in the House of Representatives was most visible in the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). The party, known for its bull emblem, strongly criticized policies that were deemed incompatible with its nationalist-people’s ideology. Policies that were considered detrimental to the people, such as the increase in fuel prices, as well as policies that did not support nationalism, such as the appointment of ExxonMobil as the main operator of the Cepu Block, became a major concern. At that time, both opposition and government parties tried hard to avoid compromise.

Similarly to PDIP, the Democratic Party was also an opposition force for 10 years during Jokowi’s administration. The Democratic Party was the only party to reject the Minerba Bill during the Pandemic. The party viewed that the Minerba Bill had a number of issues that required in-depth discussion. However, at that time, handling the pandemic was required to be a top priority, given the precarious conditions faced by Indonesia.

Commitment as an opposition was also proven by Gerindra Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), since they were part of the Red and White Coalition, during the Jokowi-JK government in the 2014-2019 period. Both parties have protested against the policies of the Election Bill and the Corruption Eradication Commission Inquiry Rights, while also agreeing to the Tax Amnesty policy by providing notes to the government.

When the opposition becomes strong and questions every policy proposed by the government to the House of Representatives, the relationship between the president and the House of Representatives looks like in a parliamentary system. However, opposition is more appropriate in parliamentary systems and less common in presidential systems. Parliament and the cabinet are full of politicians, making it difficult for the House of Representatives to effectively oversee government policies.

The formation of a compromise cabinet results in limited room for opposition. This is because ethically and morally, parties are expected to support the cabinet. As a result, the president can always reach an agreement with the House of Representatives. It is not surprising that political parties or the opposition in Indonesia prefer to join the ruler to achieve certain interests.

Jokowi’s Political Transactions and the Formation of the Unity Cabinet

The role of the opposition in Indonesia has been significantly weakened by Jokowi’s successful political transactions in forming a unity cabinet. At the beginning of his term, the government coalition consisted of PDIP, NasDem, National Awakening Party (PKB), and People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), with only 37 percent of seats in parliament, while the opposition controlled 63 percent of seats. However, in 2015 to 2016, Jokowi managed to get the National Mandate Party (PAN), PPP, and Golkar to join the government coalition, changing the parliamentary dynamics to be more favorable to the rulers.

Furthermore, in the second term of Jokowi’s administration, it was supported by PDIP, Golkar, NasDem, PKB, and PPP. Gerindra and PAN then joined the government coalition, leaving the Democratic Party and PKS outside the government. Gerindra’s representation can be seen in the position of Minister of Defense held by Prabowo Subianto. Then, PAN also joined with Zulkifli Hasan being appointed as Minister of Trade in a cabinet reshuffle by Jokowi in June 2022. Currently, only PKS remains as the opposition. The Democratic Party has decided to join the governing coalition in the 2024 election, with Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (AHY) appointed as Minister of Agrarian and Spatial Planning.

Based on data on the percentage of seats in the current parliament, the political landscape in Indonesia shows a significant imbalance of power between the government coalition and the opposition. With the government coalition controlling 91.30% of seats, this dominance gives the government full control over the legislature, weakening the role of the opposition which only has 8.70% of seats.

The Impact of Government Dominance on Indonesian Democracy

The situation is clearly bad news for the continuity of democracy in Indonesia. The stronger the government coalition and the weaker the opposition parties will make the quality of democracy decline, because democracy requires control by opposition parties over the government. A decrease in the strength of the opposition in parliament will hamper the checks and balances mechanism.

In Idul Rishan’s journal published in 2020, many parties choose to join the majority government coalition for several reasons. First, the elected president builds political support in the House of Representatives, which encourages parties to support the coalition. Second, the combination of presidential and multiparty systems often leads to deadlock between the executive and legislature, forcing parties to seek stability in coalitions. Third, the parties’ weak ideological base makes them pragmatic and focused on short-term interests, easing the transition from opposition to coalition.

However, majority coalitions also carry complex political risks. The integration of executive and legislative roles can reduce accountability, with the president often having to sacrifice his prerogatives and the House of Representatives’s oversight function weakened. In fact, the worst risk is the potential to be trapped in the temptation of authoritarianism in the governing regime.

To remedy this, constitutional change is considered essential to reorganize the relationship between the executive and the legislature (president, House of Representatives, and Regional Representative Council) on a more solid basis. In addition, simplifying the political party structure is necessary to strengthen the relationship between the executive and the legislature, as well as building a party system that is more in line with the presidential system.


Indonesia’s political dynamics show that while the multiparty system of the Reformasi era was expected to enhance democracy. In reality, opposition forces have been weakened by the dominance of the government coalition under Jokowi. With the coalition controlling almost all seats in the House of Representatives, the opposition’s role in overseeing and balancing the government’s power has become increasingly limited, leading to a decline in the quality of democracy.

This weakening of the opposition creates risks for government accountability and encourages potential authoritarianism in the presidential system. To address these issues, constitutional reforms that balance power between the executive and legislature and improvements in the political party structure are needed to strengthen the checks and balances function of the Indonesian government.

Nurhayati, currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in International Relations at the Islamic University of Indonesia. She is also a journalist at Himmah Online, a student press institution at my campus. She is interested in researching issues related to the economy, environment, and various regional topics such as Southeast Asia, America, and China.