On April 5 2004, five years after the elections in 1999, Indonesia elected a new parliament and new regional councils. For about 147 million Indonesians qualified to vote this was the first time they were be able to directly elect the president and vice-president. The first round of the presidential elections was on July 5 2004. It was only the second time since 1955 that free elections were being held in Indonesia.
In 1955 general elections were held during the government of president Sukarno. Because of enormous political pressure, general disagreement, and instability, Sukarno took control of the country and governed Indonesia from 1959 as a "guided democracy".
In 1965 an unsuccessful coup of left-oriented army officers virtually ended the rule of Sukarno. Armed forces led by general Suharto took de facto control. The communist party was prohibited and (supposed) partisans were persecuted and liquidated. Suharto accused Sukarno of colluding with the communists and gradually sidelined him. In 1967 Suharto officially became president, becoming the dictatorial ruler of Indonesia for more than 30 years by manipulating all elections.
From 1997 poor economic conditions, the people's movement to political liberalization, and the dismantling of the old political-economical networks caused growing unrest. The reformasi movement aroused massive opposition and demonstrations against Suharto, especially among students.
This finally led to the fall of president Suharto in May 1998. He was replaced by his protégé, H.J. Habibie. During Habibie's short presidency free elections were again held in June 1999, with 48 parties participating. The elections received massive media attention, nationally and internationally, with their validity checked by international observers. Though not perfect, these elections were considered the most democratic in Indonesian history.
The PDI-P of current president Megawati, a daughter of former president Sukarno, was the winner in these elections. Golkar, the party of Suharto, came in second, with the three Muslim-parties PKB, PPP and PAN receiving much fewer votes. Of the 48 parties that took part in the elections, 19 received seats in the parliament, which counted 500 members. The almost blind Abdurrahman Wahid of the PKB was elected president. Following an impeachment procedure in July 2001, he was forced to resign, and was succeeded by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the first woman to be president of Indonesia.
More information on elections in Indonesia: