Power and Political Culture: The Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and the Decline of the New Order (1986-98)

Stefan Eklöf Amirell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Under Indonesia's authoritarian New Order regime of President Suharto, the role envisaged for the small nationalist-Christian coalition the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) was that of a pliant state corporatist party, the existence of which was meant to demonstrate the ostensibly democratic character of the regime. From the second half of the 1980s, however, the party began to develop in a critical and oppositional direction and came to stand out as the major proponent of reform within the formal political system. This development was linked to the emergence of a new generation of PDI politicians, including intellectuals and members of the Sukarno family, who began to contest the exclusionary, manipulative and repressive hegemonic political culture of the regime. In this political culture, power was conflated with ethics, so that proximity to power largely relieved the actors involved of any ethical constraints as well as of any notions of popular accountability. The elitist political culture, moreover, left little room for broader popular political participation, and the ‘people’ (rakyat) was instead invoked as a symbol of what was claimed to be good, right or just for everybody. There was a strong reluctance to admit that there existed deep-seated lines of division between different sections of the people. The political culture favoured a model for decision-making based on deliberation (musyawarah) in order to reach a consensus (mufakat), in the context of which dissent was seen as unethical and differences were swept under the carpet. Powerful symbols with nationalist connotations, such as the country's 1945 Constitution and the state philosophy Pancasila, were iconized and used as tools of exclusion and repression by those in power. The restrictive and exclusionary political culture resulted in a lack of substantial political discussion, and the political system failed to function as an arena of negotiation between different political aspirations. The failure of those in power to engage in constructive political discussions, moreover, indicated a lack of confidence related to the increasingly obvious moral corruption of the New Order during its last years. The critical elements in the PDI largely framed their criticism of the regime in terms of the manifest ideology of those in power and the icons of the hegemonic political culture. This strategy on the part of the PDI, paired with the government's Machiavellian responses to the party's challenges, exposed the wide discrepancy between the officially propagated ideology on the one hand and the regime's exercise of power in practice on the other. The government-engineered deposing of the popular PDI leader Megawati Sukarnoputri in 1996 significantly damaged the popular legitimacy and moral standing of the regime. The event also triggered a split of the PDI into one pro-government party and one reform-oriented party, the PDI-P, which subsequently, after the fall of Suharto in 1998, became Indonesia's largest party.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • History
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2002 Jun 7
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2002-06-07
Time: 10:15
Place: Karolinasalen

External reviewer(s)

Name: Houben, Vincent
Title: Prof.
Affiliation: [unknown]


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History

Free keywords

  • History
  • Megawati Sukarnoputri
  • Pancasila
  • New Order
  • PDI-P
  • PDI
  • democracy
  • elections
  • political parties
  • political opposition
  • political development
  • Indonesia
  • political culture
  • Historia
  • Political history
  • Politisk historia


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