Universiteit Leiden

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VVI Research Meetings 2022-2023

The Limits of Transformational Authoritarian Constitutions: The Case of Indonesia

Wednesday 8 February 2023
Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden

In this talk I examine the idea of transformational authoritarian constitutions through the case of Indonesia, its possibilities but also its limitations. I explore the paradox that a constitution drafted by an authoritarian regime or that facilitates authoritarian rule may in fact facilitate a transition to democracy. The 1945 Constitution of Indonesia is one such example. I identify five transformational aspects of the amended 1945 Constitution: It transformed a powerful and unlimited president to one appointed by the people with reduced powers and a term limit; it transformed a weak and co-opted legislature into a representative legislature; it transformed a subordinate judicial system into one independent of the executive and with a new Constitutional Court tasked with upholding the bill of rights; it transformed the country from centralization to decentralization;, and finally there was a transformation from an ideology of integralism to constitutional democracy. Indonesia certainly illustrates the possibilities of a transformational authoritarian constitution, yet it also demonstrates the potential limits. One such limit is that these constitutions leave open the risk of reversion, that is, such constitutions may be limited in time because they potentially delay and defer, but not necessarily solve, fundamental issues about constitutional democracy.

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