The provisional constitution of 17 August 1950 provided for a unitary republic. The president and vice president, "elected in accordance with rules to be laid down by law," were to be inviolable, but cabinet ministers were jointly and individually responsible. The house of representatives was to be a unicameral parliament. Its members were elected by a system of proportional representation for a four-year term, but it might be dissolved earlier by presidential decree. Sukarno and Hatta, the first president and vice president, were elected by parliament; no term of office was stipulated by the constitution. In practice, the government was not truly parliamentary, since President Sukarno played a role far greater than is usual for the head of state in a parliamentary system. He was the great national revolutionary hero, and his popularity with the masses enabled him to exert great influence on government policy. Parliament was not strong enough to hold the president to the role prescribed by the constitution. In 1957, Sukarno adopted a more authoritarian policy of "guided democracy." He further strengthened his powers in 1959 by decreeing a return to the provisional 1945 constitution, which called for a strong president and stressed the philosophy of Pancasila as a national ideology. On 5 March 1960, Sukarno suspended parliament and began to rule by decree. In June, he appointed a new 283-member parliament drawn from 9 political parties and 14 "functional groups." In mid-August, Sukarno named another 326 legislators who, with the 283 members of parliament, were to constitute the Provisional People's Congress. This congress was to meet at least once every five years and to be responsible for drawing up the outlines of national policy and electing the president and vice president. In 1963, the congress elected Sukarno president for life. Following the political upheavals of 1965–66, the army, led by Gen. Suharto, moved to establish a "New Order." In 1967, Sukarno formally relinquished power to Suharto, who had become Indonesia's effective ruler in March 1966. Suharto reorganized the cabinet, making all of its 12 ministers responsible to him. In February 1968, he dismissed 123 members of the People's Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat or MPR), an outgrowth of the Provisional People's Congress, and replaced them with his own nominees. In June of that year, following his appointment to a five-year term as president, Suharto formed a new cabinet, with himself as prime minister and defense minister.
On 3 July 1971, general elections—the first since 1955—were held for portions of two reconstituted national bodies, a 460-seat house of representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or DPR) and a 920-seat MPR. In 1987, the memberships were increased to 500 and 1,000, respectively. The number of seats in the MPR was later reduced to 700. The People's Consultative Assembly includes the DPR plus 200 indirectly selected members; it meets every five years to elect the president and vice president and to approve broad outlines of national policy and also has yearly meetings to consider constitutional and legislative changes. Legislative responsibility is vested in the DPR, which consists of 462 elected members and 38 members appointed by the president from the military (Armed Forces of People's Republic of Indonesia, Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia or ABRI). Under the Suharto government, the MPR acted as a consultative body, setting guidelines for national policy; its principal legislative task was to approve the Broad Outlines of State Policy. In March 1973, the MPR elected President Suharto to a second five-year term; he was reelected to a third term in 1978, a fourth in 1983, a fifth in 1988, a sixth in 1993, and a seventh in 1998. However, Suharto was forced to step down in May 1998 in favor of his vice-president, B. J. Habibie. Habibie sought to decrease the role of the military in Indonesian politics and promised major political and economic reforms. He too was forced to resign after the People's Consultative Assembly questioned his leadership. In a surprise move, the body chose Abdurrahman Wahid as president in October 1999. Wahid, a well respected Muslim cleric, promised democratization and an end to corruption. Ironically, Wahid was eventually removed from office in July 2001, for corruption and political incompetence. Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, became president. She also took on the perennial problem of corruption, but had to face the issue of international terrorism as well.
In August 2002, the People's Consultative Assembly approved constitutional amendments due to take effect in time for presidential elections in 2004. Seats in parliament will no longer be reserved for the armed forces (currently standing at 38 seats); in return, members of the military will be allowed to vote. The assembly rejected the imposition of Shari'ah for Muslims. After 2004, a second standing body will function as a senate in Indonesia—the Regional Representative Council. But most important, parliament will no longer elect the president; instead, he or she will be directly elected. President Megawati initially opposed the change to direct election, but then accepted it.