Sat, 12 Mar 2005

House agrees to meet Susilo on Monday over fuel protests

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

House of Representatives leaders have agreed to hold a consultative meeting on Monday with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to discuss the fuel price hikes, which many legislators have rejected.

The decision was seen by many as a setback for certain House factions that were attempting to set up an immediate inquiry into the President over the price increases.

The agreement for the consultative meeting was achieved at a closed-door meeting on Thursday, led by House speaker Agung Laksono and attended by all faction leaders and chairs of Commission VII for energy and mineral resources, Commission XI for finance, as well as the budget committee.

On Monday their first meeting ended in deadlock, with participants failing to agree to take the issue to a plenary meeting of the House.

Last week, some 30 legislators from various factions opposed to the fuel price rises submitted a petition demanding that the House hold a plenary session to discuss a possible inquiry into the President.

Signatories to the petition claimed that the President had violated Law No. 36/2004 on the 2005 state budget, which requires that the government consult the House regarding all budget revisions.

A inquiry by the House into President Abdurrahman Wahid in an alleged corruption scam led to his impeachment in 2001.

House leaders also agreed on Thursday to convene a plenary session on Tuesday to report the results of the planned consultative meeting with Susilo.

Commission XI chairman Paskah Suzetta said the decision to have a consultative meeting with Susilo, rather than approving the demand for an inquiry, could not be regarded as a setback as both sides would get a chance to hear the government's explanations.

House sources said that during Thursday's meeting the House was divided into two camps, with five factions -- the Golkar Party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Democratic Pioneer Star faction, the United Development Party (PPP) and the Democratic Party -- supporting the government's decision on fuel prices.

Five other factions -- the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the National Mandate Party (PAN), the National Awakening Party (PKB), the Reform Star Party (PBR), and the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) -- rejected the rises.

"There were only few legislators who wanted to bring this issue up at a plenary session during the meeting because the topic had actually been discussed in Commission XI and Commission VII meetings (with ministers)," Paskah of Golkar told The Jakarta Post.

However, PDI-P legislator Trimedya Panjaitan said his faction would press ahead with lobbying other factions to convince them to support its demand for an inquiry into Susilo over the fuel price hikes.

"We don't think that there is any danger in bringing the issue to a plenary meeting. Even if it goes to a vote, legislators should not be overly concerned that this will worsen the situation," he said on the sidelines of Thursday's meeting.

Outside the House compound, some 1,000 students from the Jakarta Student Executive Body (BEM) held a rally on Thursday demanding that the government cancel the fuel price increases.

Police prevented the rowdy mob from entering House grounds, with the protesters bringing down iron gates while pelting officers with Molotov cocktails and tomatoes.

A delegation of 11 student demonstrators were allowed to enter the building, but were prevented by dozens of security personnel from going into rooms where House leaders were meeting.

The students later staged a "free speech forum" outside the meeting room, and read out a statement outlining their demands.

"We, the Jakarta Student Executive Body, reject the policy of raising fuel prices and urge that the government revoke Presidential Decree No. 22/2005. We urge the House of Representatives to hold a plenary meeting and use their right to question the president." (006)