Volksraad: The House of Commons of the Dutch Indies

Triggered by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 and the pressure from Budi Utomo and the Dutch who lives in the East Indies, had forced the Dutch government started to think to form a parliament. On December 16, 1916, the establishment of the Volksraad or People’s Council was submitted by the Minister of Colonies, Pleyte and accepted by the Dutch Parliament. Volkraad establishment provided in Article 53 to Article 80 Section Two Indische Staatsregelling, Wet op de Staatsinrichting van Nederlandsh-Indie (Indies Staatsregeling/Dutch East Indies Constitution) is set on December 16, 1916 and published in Indies Staatsblat No. 114 In 1916 and come into effect on August 1, 1917 contain matters relating to legislative power of the Volksraad (People’s Council). Based on Indische Staatsrgeling, on May 18, 1918 Governor General Johan Paul Graaf van Limburg Stirum, on behalf of the Dutch government, established and inaugurated the Volksraad.

Graaf van Limburg Stirum

Initially, the council only serves as an advisory body which is only entitled to give suggestions to the government of the Dutch East Indies. The People’s Council consists of members which were selected and appointed by the Governor-General. The power of the People’s Council is very limited. The Council only received power as advisory roles, including the right to propose reforms deemed necessary to the Governor-General

In its first meeting on May 21, 1918 which was opened by the Governor General Johan Paul Graaf van Limburg Stirum, member of the Volksraad were 39 people, with the king appointed chairman (Dr. JC Koningeberger), 19 selected (10 of Indonesia, and 9 of Eastern Foreign  and European), 19 was Governor-General appointed member (5 Indonesia, 14 European and Eastern Foreign). In 1920 the member were increased fro 49 with 20 Indonesian  and 28 Eastern Foeign and and European and a  chairman.

Although at first, Volksraad only has authority as an advisory body. In 1927, the People’s Council has co-legislative powers with the Governor-General. But with the veto rights of the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies had made Volksraad very limited authority. In addition, the mechanism of the Volksraad membership was through indirect election. In 1939, only 2,000 people have the right to vote. From those 2,000 people, the vast majority were Dutch and other Europeans.

The establishment of the People’s Council is only political lip of the colonial ruler and also raises the debate between the national movements. Through the selection of stratified and convoluted, the composition of the membership of the People’s Council is not at all appealing to the non-cooperators. But it is undeniable that the Volksraad has become an important forum for the cooperation-wing nationalist movement. Volksraad, in the period 1930-1936, for several time was used as an alternative forum from movement organizations

National movement organizations that had representatives in the Volksraad staged various protests in the People’s Council such as a protest against house searches of the PNI leader, fighting for the fate of the workers from poenale sanctie, demands to repeal Wild Shcool Ordinance, a motion for establishment of the Faculty of Letters received by a vote of 29 opposed to 27, and demands to eliminate the significant difference on the salary received by native soldiers (failed by a vote of 13 agreed and 23 against).


Volksraad task is basically to give advice to the Governor-General, even Volksraad has no right of inquiry and the right to determine the state budget. Volksraad in facet,  does not have such powers of parliament in general. However, in accordance with the political developments in Indonesia, piecemeal changes occurred in this institution. Significant changes occurred during the Dutch colonial rule in the Indonesian staple, namely RR (Regeling Reglement, 1854) to IS (Indische Staatsre). This change had an impact on the composition and duties of the Volksraad.

Volksraad sessions took place in the building that is now called Gedung Pancasila, in Jl Pejambon, Central Jakarta, the building now is the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. During the period 1927 – 1941, Volksraad only ever passed six Law, and the Dutch government only approved 3 laws from 6 laws that was passed.

On July 15, 1936, Soetardjo Kartohadikoesoemo supported by the IJ. Kasimo, GSSJ. Ratulangi, Datuk Tumenggung and Ko Kwat Tiong sent a petition to the Queen Wilhelmina and the Staten General or Dutch Parliament. The petition, which was then known as the Soetardjo Petition contains proposals for Indonesian gain independence gradually. The petition was filed because of the growing sense of discontent with the government due to political expediency that run by the Governor-General de Jonge. This petition was denied by the Dutch government.

Back to the People’s Council, at that time in addition to the authority that was almost castrated due veto owned Governor-General, in all aspects of meeting session-almost all of them were controlled by the colonial government, such as the language used in the meeting had to use the Dutch language.

But in 1927, Haji Agus Salim and Jahja Datuk Kajo began pioneering the use of Indonesian in a their speechs in the Volksraad. The speech of Salim delivered in the Indonesian raised many protests but, Salim referring to a motion presented the first native Volksraad member, Achmad Djajadiningrat and his friends on December 3, 1918 about the use of Indonesian. The Queen of the Netherlands allow the use of the Indonesian but have to prioritize the Dutch.

Muhammad Husni Thamrin, a Betawi representative and the chairman of the National Faction in the Volksraad, announced that his fractions will use Indonesian in every speech in the Volksraad on July 12, 1938. The main argument of the National Faction is that all applicable regulations generally for people are set in the Dutch language. While the majority of the people is not in the understand the Dutch, the educated natives do not like to read and write in Indonesian language newspaper, and the people of Indonesia will not win the debate with the Dutch in the Dutch language .

Unlike in the meeting session in the period of 1927-1928, in the 1938-1939 period there are six members of the Volksraad natives who use Indonesian: Thamrin, Soeroso, Abdel Rasjid, Soangkoepon, Wirjopranoto Iskandar Dinata, and Datoe Toemenggoeng. They are advocates of the National Faction in fighting for Indonesian to be used in the Volksraad meeting.

Volksraad existence was ended on March 7, 1942 when the Dutch surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese in Kalijati, West Java.

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