Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago — with more than 17,000 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited — and it has the world's largest Muslim population (about 205 million). When Indonesia decided in 1998 to end 40 years of military rule, transition to democracy presented unique challenges.
After 40 years of military-backed governments, Indonesia held its first genuinely democratic elections for the legislature in June 1999, a process monitored by The Carter Center. The vote for legislative seats was the first step in electing a new president after the May 1998 resignation of President Suharto, who led an authoritarian government for 32 years. While his ruling Golkar party won every election for nearly 20 years, 48 parties were approved for the 1999 ballot when his successor, interim President B.J. Habibie, agreed to hold open elections. The Center and the National Democratic Institute fielded a 100-member delegation and concluded that the elections were credible.
Following the parliamentary vote, Abdurrahman Wahid was selected president in November 1999 by the People's Consultative Assembly. In July 2001, however, President Wahid was removed from office and replaced by Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri following an extended clash with the national legislature regarding Wahid's alleged mismanagement and mishandling of state funds.
Since 1999, Indonesians have gained new political freedoms, but public opinion polls found that most Indonesians were becoming disillusioned with the government and the country's economic decline.
In late June 2004, with the leadership of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter, and former Prime Minister of Thailand Chuan Leekpai, the Center deployed 60 international observers to 17 provinces for the July 5 presidential election.
The observers generally found polling stations they visited were well-organized, functioned effectively, and had their full staff and necessary election materials. But a high percentage of ballots were classified as invalid because many voters did not unfold ballots completely before indicating their choice, which could have been avoided with better planning and training of polling officials and voters. The Center also recommended candidate representatives and observers have full access to monitor the entire process, including verification of the final result.
The Center deployed a 57-member delegation to observe the Sept. 20, 2004, runoff.
Election regulations restricted the runoff formal campaign period to only three days, which was inconsistent with international norms for political competition in democratic elections. The Carter Center heard many concerns from representatives of political parties, campaign teams, electoral officials, and civil society throughout the country about the illegitimate use and influence of money in the campaign, including vote buying and the inappropriate use of government resources.
On Oct. 4, the election commission officially announced that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won the presidency with 60.7 percent of the vote, compared to incumbent President Megawati Soekarnoputri , who obtained 39.4 percent. Quick counts conducted by several Indonesian research organizations, enhanced the transparency of the vote-counting process.
This election marked an important step in Indonesia's dramatic transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.
In March 2009, The Carter Center deployed three teams of long-term observers to formally launch its limited election observation mission of Indonesia's April 9 legislative elections. They were joined by a small number of short-term observers close to election day.
Due to the small size and limited scope of its presence, the Carter Center teams did not constitute a comprehensive observation mission and did not draw conclusions or issue public judgments about the overall election process. Instead, the delegates focused their assessment on the administration of the election, the availability and efficacy of electoral dispute mechanisms, and issues related to campaign finance.
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Size: 1,904,569 square kilometers
Population below poverty line: 11 percent
Life expectancy: 73 years
Ethnic groups: Javanese, Sundanese, Malay, Batak, Madurese, Minangkabau, Betawi, Buginese, Bantanese, Banjarese, Balinese, Acehnese, Dayak, Sasak, Chinese, other
Religions: Muslim, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Hindu, other or unspecified
Languages: Bahasa Indonesia (official), English, Dutch, local dialects (Javanese)
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016