Until the autumn of 1955, when the first national elections were held, members of the House of Representatives were appointed by the president in consultation with party leaders. Of the 37,785,299 votes cast in the 1955 general election, six parties received more than one million votes each: the Indonesian Nationalist Party (Partai Nasional Indonesia—PNI), 22.3% of the total; the Council of Muslim Organizations (Masjumi),20.9%; the Orthodox Muslim Scholars (Nahdlatul Ulama—NU),18.4%; the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia—PKI), 16.4%; the United Muslim Party, 2.9%; and the Christian Party, 2.6%. In all, 28 parties won representation in the 273-member Parliament. Almost all the political parties had socialist aims or tendencies. The PNI, many of whose prominent members were leaders in the prewar nationalist movement, represented a combination of nationalism and socialism. Government officials and employees had originally constituted its backbone, but subsequently it grew powerful among labor and farmer groups as well. The Masjumi was more evenly distributed throughout Indonesia than any other party. Although it contained a large percentage of the small middle class, its principles were markedly socialist, owing to the influence in the party of a religious socialist group. The NU, which broke away from the Masjumi largely because of differences in religious outlook, represented the orthodox but not strictly conservative views of the rural people and religious teachers. The Christian Party was founded by Protestants; a smaller Roman Catholic Party was also formed. On 17 August 1960, Sukarno ordered the dissolution of the Masjumi and socialist parties on the grounds of disloyalty. A month later, on 13 September, political action by all parties was barred.
Early in 1961, notice was given that all political parties were required to apply for permission to function. On 15 April, parties certified to continue in existence included the PKI, PNI, NU, Catholic, Islamic Association, Indonesian, Indonesian Protestant Christian, Indonesian Islam Sarekat, and the League for Upholding Indonesian Independence. The PKI, which at the height of its power in 1965 had an estimated three million members and was especially strong on Java, was banned by Gen. Suharto in March 1966, by which time more than 100,000 PKI members were estimated to have been killed in riots, assassinations, and purges; many more PKI members were arrested. Since then, the party has operated underground. The Masjumi dissolved in 1960. Under the Suharto government, political opposition in Indonesia had become increasingly quiescent. Prior to the 1971 elections, the government formed a mass organization, known as Golkar (Golongan Karya), as the political vanguard for its "New Order" program. Golkar drew upon elements outside traditional party ranks—the civil service, labor, youth, cooperatives, and other groups—and succeeded in effectively circumventing the parties' ability to play a national role. Prior to the 1971 voting, a government-appointed election committee screened all prospective candidates, eliminating 735 from the initial list of 3,840; only 11 of those eliminated were from Golkar. Candidates were forbidden to criticize the government or to discuss religious issues. In the elections, held on 3 July 1971, Golkar candidates received 63% of the vote, while winning 227 of the 351 contested seats in the House of Representatives. Besides Golkar— which is not formally considered a political party—nine parties took part in the elections, as compared with 28 in 1955. The Orthodox Muslim NU placed second in the balloting, with 58 seats; the moderate Indonesian Muslim Party (Parmusi), an offshoot of the banned Masjumi Party, won 24 seats; and the PNI, Sukarno's former base, won only 20 seats. Four smaller groups—the Muslim Political Federation, the Protestant Christian Party, the Catholic Party, and the Islamic Party—divided the remaining 22 seats. The government subsequently announced that 57 million persons, or over 95% of the electorate, had taken part in the voting. An act of 1975 provided for the fusion of the major political organizations into two parties—the United Development Party (Partai Persuatan Pembangunan—PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (Partai DemoKrasi Indonesia—PDI)—and Golkar. The PPP, Golkar's chief opposition, is a fusion of the NU, Parmusi and other Muslim groups, while the PDI represents the merger of the PNI, the Christian Party, the Roman Catholic Party, and smaller groups. In the third general election, held on 2 May 1977, Golkar won 232 seats in the House of Representatives, against 99 seats for the PPP and 29 seats for the PDI. Golkar made further gains in the elections of 4 May 1982, winning 246 of the 364 contested seats, against 94 for the PPP and 24 for the PDI. Both opposition parties charged that the government had falsified the vote totals. Rioting marred the campaign period, and 35,000 army troops were stationed in Jakarta on election day. In the election of 23 April 1987, Golkar won 292 of the 400 elected seats (73.2%), against 64 for the PPP (16%), and 44 for the PDI (10.8%).
For the 1992 election the campaign rules banned automobile rallies and picture posters of political leaders; large outdoor rallies were discouraged, radio and televised appeals had to be approved in advance by the elections commission, and no campaigning took place in the five days before the elections. In 1992 there were 17 million first-time voters in a population of 108 million registered voters. More than 97 million Indonesians voted, 90% of the registered voters. Golkar won 68% of the popular vote, down by 5% from 1987. The PPP took 17% of the vote. The PDI took 15% of the vote compared to 10.9% in 1987. These results in terms of DPR seats were: Golkar took 281 DPR seats (down 18 seats from 1987); PPP took 63 seats (down 2 seats from 1987); and the PDI took 56 seats (an increase of 16 seats).
The most violent election campaign in recent years was in 1997 as the ruling Golkar party took 74% of the vote. The 29 May 1997 elections were marked by fraud. More than 200 people were killed in the campaign, which banned motorcades. The PPP took 22% of the vote, and the PDI, 3%. The 7 June 1999 elections resulted in a victory for Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI-P (or Indonesia Democracy Party–Struggle); however, she relinquished the presidency in favor of Abdurrahman Wahid. The PDI-P took 37.4% of the vote, Golkar took 20.9% of the vote, Wahid's National Awakening Party (PKB) took 17.4% of the vote, and the PPP took 10.7%. Megawati became president on the removal of Wahid in July 2001. The next elections are due to be held in 2004.