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Indonesian President

Republik Indonesia

Last modified: 2013-07-19 by ian macdonald
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Presidential flag

[President's flag of Indonesia] image by Sammy Kanadi, 23 June 2000

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Description of the flag

I received a reply from the ex- Republic of Indonesia Chief of Protocol. He is sure about the design shown above, so the existence of the flag is now clear. The ratio is 2:3 (without the fringe), the same as the national flag.

About the color, he said that he has never read any official meaning of the flag, but (as he stressed from his personal knowledge), as usual here in Indonesia, yellow background means: Greatness, the five-pointed star means the five principles of the Pancasila (the national ideology), and the wreath of paddy and cotton means the Indonesian welfare (in Indonesian: "Kesejahteraan", taken from Sanskrit word "Cattra" which means "umbrella"). Note that about the wreath, I do not agree with him. I think the wreath is probably of olive or paddy, but not cotton. The seal defaced in the flag is still in use as the presidential seal, and it is still as we can see, with no cotton. The late President Soekarno has a very deep knowledge of world history, and when he designed the flag, he probably used the wreath of laurel to represent power as was used by Roman emperors, or paddy to represent welfare (paddy is Indonesian staple food).

About the usage, he said that it was used both as car flag and - in a large size - as the sign of the presidential presence, usually hoisted at top of the Merdeka Palace. During the President Soeharto administration, the flag was never used. Again, there's no official explanation about this.

Today, it seems that the flag is not in use by President Abdurrahman Wahid. The last time I saw him, he used the national flag at the front of his car, without a fringe but with a cord and tassel. It seems the presidential flag as described here will never be used again. The 32 years of Soeharto's era are very deeply rooted in Indonesian life today. I think the officials at the Palace have come to understand that the president uses the Red-White as his flag. Since it has been so long since the presidential flag as described above used was last used, I think it is more correct to say that the flag was President Soekarno's personal flag, although there's no law that banned the use of that presidential flag by the later presidents.

The law about the presidential flag is described in PP. No. 42/1958.
Sammy Kanadi, 23 June 2000

The two branches of the wreath appear to be asymmetrical on the image above, especially at the middle and top. Is this a mistake? If not, could it be that two different species (paddy and cotton) are being represented?
Santiago Dotor, 23 June 2000

I think the wreath is of only one species. Cotton and paddy are widely used in Indonesian coats of arms. The images of cotton and paddy are very different. Based on that, I can say that the wreath is of one species of plant (again, maybe paddy or laurel--as António said - but I don't think there's any cotton).
Sammy Kanadi, 24 June 2000

The presidential flag is also shown in Album des Pavillons (2000).  The modern version, shown above, differs in the artistic rendition of the star and wreath from the one in Album 2000. Album 2000 show the emblems in very similar artistic rendition as in Smith (1982), however, there the flag is in ratio 1:1 or 4:5 (+ golden fringe).
Željko Heimer, 10 November 2001

History of the flag

History (based on general knowledge, official history must be obtained from the palace, so it needs time to know the whole history and meaning):

The flag, as well as the emblem, probably designed by the late President Soekarno himself. Since he was the first president of the republic, the emblem is one of the earliest emblems of the republic. Although Soekarno was a civil, he was interested so much in military world. And because the Constitution says that the president is the highest commander of the whole Army, the star is placed in the middle of the emblem, symbolizing military supremacy as well as the first person in Indonesian administrations rank. During Soekarno's reign, internal and external conditions forced the government to raise and keep nationalism as high as possible. For this reason, national symbols (the COAs, flag, and anthem) have a good place and proper admiration.

About the wreath, it is common now in Indonesia to symbolize prosperity by a wreath of padi (raw rice) and kapas (cotton). Padi usually placed in the observer's left, cotton in the right. The wreath of padi and kapas maybe took their current form from the green wreath of the presidential emblem. I still don't know what kind of plant it is.

Soeharto took the presidential office in 1967, and the internal condition forced him to stabilize the country first, other matters next. During his 32 years reign, he focused the administrations to deal mainly with economic and social development. The success was so great, that he seems to have forgot nationalism matters. People weren't reminded to admire national symbols as much as in the Soekarno's era, and were allowed to be get used with national symbols without any interest or cause to take a deep look at their historical background and meaning. Furthermore, he always reminded people about the form of the state, an unitary state. So, a flag, just a flag (the Sang Saka Merah Putih--The Lofty Red-White), was enough to represent Indonesia. By this way, he was never seen with the presidential flag in general meeting place or public gathering. Maybe the flag is still kept in the office, but combined with the low level of Indonesian heraldic tradition, people are little concerned about national emblems.

In 1998, Habibie succeeded Soeharto as president. People were given a new look of the presidential nuance. Habibie was more warm and open to the public than his predecessor. Besides, people now noticed when the president makes an official speech, the national anthem will be played first, and the whole nations will see the president make speech with the national flag behind him. Maybe these customs are common in other countries, but since the 70s, Indonesians have forgotten those customs. Habibie seemed to place more attention in national symbols, mainly the flag and the anthem. But he did not have enough time to publicize the proper way of caring for national symbols. He resigned just a year after he took the office, and the presidential flag was still never seen itself nor was its existence known to the public.

The year 1999 witnessed dramatic change in Indonesia's political life, as well as almost every aspect of Indonesians life. Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid (also known as Gus Dur) took the presidential office, emerged as a leader from no political party involved in the last election (although he is closely related to one of the major parties, Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa--National Awakening Party). The economic crisis in Indonesia forced him to focus first on economic matters. He is a 'loose' man, does not like protocol so much (some says that that is his way to make the people feel one step closer to the president). So far, President Abdurrahman Wahid never seems to used the presidential flag. Because he was just took the office for about two months, the economics will still be his focus. So, it will be to early to predict whether he will display the proper way to care for national symbols or not.

As well there are separatist movements in Indonesia, which use flags successfully to show their existence. People are now aware of their existence when they see their flag, or at least will ask a question about what flag it is... Moreover, the debate about state form, whether to keep the unitary one or change it to a federal one is still in process, and no matter which one will be adopted, provinces or regions will have a bigger say than the capital. This can lead people to have deep pride in their regions, and in the end, maybe raise regional/provincial flags, not just political or rebel flags.
Sammy Kanadi, 14 December 1999

A French warship visiting Indonesia sent me a report on Indonesian flags. The presidential flag does not exist any more.
Armand Noel du Payrat, 13 June 2001