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On August 17, 1945, immediately following Japan’s surrender to the Allies, Sukarno and fellow nationalist Muhammad Hatta declared Indonesia’s independence. The next day the provisional parliament adopted a constitution and elected Sukarno president. The constitution included the Panca Sila in its preamble and gave the president a great deal of authority. The Dutch refused to accept the independence proclamation. For the next five years Indonesia and The Netherlands negotiated and fought with one another. Finally, in December 1949 the Dutch acknowledged Indonesia’s independence, but the status of the western half of New Guinea (now the province of Papua) remained in dispute.
Although Sukarno was an important symbol of the national struggle against the Dutch, he soon lost political ground to domestic rivals. By 1949 he was little more than a figurehead, while real political power lay with the prime minister. This arrangement was made official in new constitutions adopted in 1949 and 1950, which established a parliamentary, rather than presidential, political system for Indonesia.
In the early and mid-1950s Sukarno remained a figurehead president. However, beginning in 1957, as Indonesia’s political system began to disintegrate and military rebellions broke out in Sumatra and Sulawesi, he asserted a more powerful political role. In 1959 Sukarno decreed the reintroduction of Indonesia’s 1945 constitution, which gave the president wider authority. Arguing that Western-style parliamentary democracy was unsuited to Indonesian needs, he introduced in its place a system called “Guided Democracy,” that emphasized traditional Indonesian values, such as decision making by deliberation and consensus rather than majority vote. Sukarno promoted national unity through NASAKOM, an acronym for the three major ideological streams in Indonesian politics: nasionalisme (nationalism), agama (religion), and komunisme (communism).