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Pancasila; the state philosophy
A way to keep Indonesia united

In its preamble, the 1945 constitution sets forth the Pancasila as the embodiment of basic principles of an independent Indonesian state. These five principles were announced by Sukarno in a speech known as "The Birth of the Pancasila," which he gave to the Independence Preparatory Committee on June 1, 1945. In brief, and in the order given in the constitution, the Pancasila principles are: belief in one supreme God; humanitarianism; nationalism expressed in the unity of Indonesia; consultative democracy; and social justice.

Sukarno's statement of the Pancasila, while simple in form, resulted from a complex and sophisticated appreciation of the ideological needs of the new nation. In contrast to Muslim nationalists who insisted on an Islamic identity for the new state, the framers of the Pancasila insisted on a culturally neutral identity, compatible with democratic or Marxist ideologies, and overarching the vast cultural differences of the heterogeneous population. Like the national language - Bahasa Indonesia - which Sukarno also promoted, the Pancasila did not come from any particular ethnic group and was intended to define the basic values for an "Indonesian" political culture.

While the Pancasila has its modern aspect, Sukarno presented it in terms of a traditional Indonesian society in which the nation parallels an idealized village in which society is egalitarian, the economy is organized on the basis of mutual self-help (gotong royong), and decision making is by consensus (musyawarah-mufakat). In Sukarno's version of the Pancasila, political and social dissidence constituted deviant behavior. Suharto modified this view, to the extent that one of the criticisms of his version of the Pancasila was that he tried to Javanize it by asserting that the fundamental building block of the Pancasila was the ilmu kasunyatan (highest wisdom) that comes from the practices of kebatinan.

One reason why both Sukarno and Suharto were successful in using the Pancasila to support their authority, despite their very different policy orientations, was the generalized nature of the principles of the Pancasila. The Pancasila was less successful as a unifying concept when leadership tried to give it policy content. For example, in 1959 Sukarno proclaimed a new unity in an important slogan called Nasakom - a state trinity of nationalism, communism, and religion - as the revolutionary basis for a "just and prosperous society." To oppose the PKI, under this model, was to be anti-Pancasila.

However, the principal opponent to this kind of ideological correctness was ABRI, creating political problems for Sukarno within the military. Suharto, on the other hand, gained the support of the military because he did not require ideological conformity. ABRI, while not necessarily actively promoting the Pancasila, shared rather than contended for power. Suharto noted this cooperation in his National Day address of August 16, 1984, when he said that ABRI, with its dual function, was "a force which preserves and continuously refreshes Pancasila democracy."

Unlike Sukarno, whose use of ideological appeals often seemed to be a cynical and manipulative substitute for substantive achievements, even at times an excuse for policy failure, the Suharto government sought to engage in policies and practices that contributed to stability and development. The 1973 reorganization of political parties--from the nine (plus Golkar) that contested the 1971 elections to two (plus Golkar)--was justified as a step in the direction of Pancasila democracy.

Beginning in 1978, a national indoctrination program was undertaken to inculcate Pancasila values in all citizens, especially school children and civil servants. From an abstract statement of national goals, the Pancasila was now used as an instrument of social and political control. To oppose the government was to oppose the Pancasila. To oppose the Pancasila was to oppose the foundation of the state.

The effort to force conformity to the government's interpretation of Pancasila ideological correctness was not without controversy. Two issues in particular persistently tested the limits of the government's tolerance of alternative or even competitive systems of political thought. The first issue was the position of religion, especially Islam; the second issue was the role of legal opposition in Pancasila democracy.

From the very outset of independence, Islam and the Indonesian state had a tense political relationship. The Pancasila's promotion of monotheism is a religiously neutral and tolerant statement that equates Islam with the other religious systems: Christianity, Buddhism, and Hindu-Balinese beliefs. However, the Muslim political forces had felt betrayed since signing the 1949 Jakarta Charter, under which they accepted a pluralist republic in return for agreement that the state would be based upon belief in one God with Muslims obligated to follow the sharia. The government's failure to follow through constitutionally and legally on this commitment set the agenda for future Islamic politics. At the extreme was the Darul Islam rebellion of the 1950s, that sought to establish a Muslim theocracy.

The New Order's emphasis on the Pancasila was viewed by orthodox Muslim groups as an effort to subordinate Islam to a secular state ideology, even a "civil religion" manipulated by a regime inherently biased against the full expression of Muslim life. Indeed, in 1985 the government capped its effort to domesticate all elements in society to the Pancasila with legislation requiring all voluntary organizations to adopt the Pancasila as their sole ideological principle, and providing for government supervision, intervention, and, if necessary, dissolution of organizations to guarantee compliance.

Proclaimed as a "perfection" of Pancasila democracy, the Mass Organizations Law's intent went to the heart of religiously based groups. This decision was forced on the Muslim-oriented PPP at its 1984 national congress, which was stage-managed by the government. For some Muslims it was the last straw. The government's assurance that Muslims were not threatened by the law seemed hollow because the new law restricted the practices of Islam to family, mosque, and prayer, rather than allowing Islam to enfold the fullness of human activity, including politics.

An environment was exacerbated in which more radical Muslims, incited by fiery clerics, prepared for direct opposition, including political violence. The government's stern reaction to dissidence--swift arrest, trial for subversion, and long prison terms--soon inhibited any open public interest in confrontation.

On the other hand, by the 1980s, within the legal and politically acceptable boundaries of Muslim involvement, the state had become a major promoter of Islamic institutions. The government even subsidized numerous Muslim community activities. Within the overall value structure of the Pancasila, Islamic moral teaching and personal codes of conduct balanced the materialism inherent in secular economic development. Suharto himself went to great lengths to demonstrate that he was a good Muslim, including making the hajj to Mecca in May 1991.

In August 1991, he pledged Rp3 billion to a new Islamic bank (Bank Muamalat Indonesia) and declared he would encourage other wealthy Muslims to contribute. By wooing Islamic leaders and teachers, the state won broad support for its developmental policies. There is no question but that Islam was a state-favored religion in Indonesia, but it was not a state religion. That reality defined the most critical political issue for many orthodox Muslims. Moreover, the question remained how opposition--religious or secular--could legally be expressed in the workings of Pancasila democracy.

The five principals in the Pancasila
  • Belief in the One and Only God
  • Just and Civilized Humanity
  • The Unity of Indonesia
  • Democracy Guided by the Inner Wisdom in the Unanimity Arising Out of Deliberations Amongst Representatives
  • Social Justice for the Whole of the People of Indonesia

Belief in the One and Only God

This principle of Pancasila reaffirms the Indonesian people's belief that God does exist. It also implies that the Indonesian people believe in life after death. It emphasizes that the pursuit of sacred values will lead the people to a better life in the hereafter. The principle is embodied in article 29, Section 1 of the 1945 Constitution and reads: "The state shall be based on the belief in the One and Only God'.

Just and Civilized Humanity

This principle requires that human beings be treated with due regard to their dignity as God's creatures. It emphasizes that the Indonesian people do not tolerate physical or spiritual oppression of human beings by their own people or by any other nations.

The Unity of Indonesia

This principle embodies the concept of nationalism, of love for ones nation and motherland. It envisages the need to always foster national unity and integrity Pancasila nationalism demands that Indonesians avoid superiority feelings on ethnical grounds, for reasons of ancestry and color of the skin. In 1928 Indonesian youth pledged to have one country, one nation and one language, while the Indonesian coat of arms enshrines the symbol of "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika" which means "unity in diversity". Social differences in daily life should never affect national unity and integrity. Referring to this question, President Soeharto once remarked: "What we should do is to have these differences blend us together in perfect harmony like the beautiful spectrum of the rainbow".

Democracy Guided by the Inner Wisdom in the Unanimity Arising Out of Deliberations Amongst Representatives

On this type of democracy. President Soeharto said : "The democracy that we practice is Pancasila democracy of which the basic principles and legal basis are laid down in the 1945 Constitution". Pancasila democracy cells for decision-making through deliberations, or musyawarah, to reach a consensus, or mufakat. It is democracy that lives up to the principles of Pancasila. This implies that democratic right must always be exercised with a deep sense of responsibility to God Almighty according to ones own conviction and religious belief with respect for humanitarian values of man's dignity and integrity, and with a view to preserving and strengthening national unity and the pursuit of social justice.

Social Justice for the Whole of the People of Indonesia

This principle cells for the equitable spread of welfare to the entire population, not in a static but in a dynamic and progressive way. This means that all the country's natural resources and the national potentials should be utilized for the greatest possible good and happiness of the people. Social justice implies protection of the weak.

But protection should not deny them work. On the contrary, they should work according to their abilities and fields of activity. Protection should prevent willful treatment by the strong and ensure the rule of justice. These are the sacred values of Pancasila which, as a cultural principle should always be respected by every Indonesian because it is now the ideology of the state and the life philosophy of the Indonesian people.

Last revised on December 01, 2009
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