Applied Law in Indonesia Conclusion

Conclusions - problems with applied law in Indonesia


Several points stand out in the previous articles:

  • The New Order regime under Suharto intentionally dismantled and trivialized the legal system, converting it into a tool working outside the written law and responsive only to the needs of the elites.
  • With the advent of democracy in 1998, formal authority was returned to the police, prosecutors, and courts, but the actual personnel and working methods remained little changed from the Suharto era.
  • Attempts to reform the courts—and as we will see later, many other legal institutions—have been largely unsuccessful due to fierce resistance from the institutions themselves.
  • Decentralization—well-intended to foster democracy—has encouraged an uncontrolled explosion of unregulated and even sometimes unconstitutional local laws.
  • The Mahkamah Agung has not stepped up to its constitutional role to guide the courts in interpretation of law.


The jungle of law...

The “vast and extensive jungle of law” which is Indonesia doesn't refer only to the tangled proliferation of poorly documented laws, but also to the "red in tooth and claw" contest in applying those laws.

Without guidance from the Mahkamah Agung, without rule of precedent, without oversight from the Komisi Yudisial, every judge is free to deliver arbitrary decisions without any requirement to explain or justify those decisions.

Couple this with the legacy of a legal system purposely structured to be responsive to back-door input from the elites—still largely intact since the end of the Suharto era.

In other words:

  • There are no commonly accepted meanings or interpretations behind many even basic laws.
  • There are no requirements for a court to return consistent rulings on identical cases.
  • Previous judicial decisions which might indicate accepted law about marriage, property, contracts, or other issues do not necessarily provide precident in your case.