Wed, 17 May 2000

Akbar dismisses DPA's first minister plan

JAKARTA (JP): House Speaker Akbar Tandjung dismissed the Supreme Advisory Council's proposal for the appointment of a first minister to assist the President on the grounds that it violated the 1945 Constitution and would only increase political instability in the nation.

"The Supreme Advisory Council's proposal will not be effective because the appointment of a first minister and the presence of coordinating ministers could create confusion and disturbance in the cabinet," he said here on Tuesday.

The Supreme Advisory Council (DPA) called for the president on Monday to appoint a first minister in order to establish consistency among the ministers in the government.

Akbar said he appreciated President Abdurrahman Wahid's recent decision to personally concentrate on economic matters while Vice President Megawati tackles administrative affairs.

"What is most important is that the coordinating ministers strengthen cooperation with all ministers under their own authority so that the government can make significant progress and achieve something of benefit to the people of Indonesia," he said.

Akbar warned that despite the president's prerogatives, he could not replace his ministers arbitrarily because the cabinet consisted of ministers representing political parties and other interest groups.

"The president should not listen to the DPA's proposal because it would disrupt the cabinet and would not create a conducive environment in the administration," he said.

House Deputy Speaker Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno concurred and said the proposal was unconstitutional.

"The DPA's proposal is neka-neka (idle and groundless) and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) will oppose it in the House," he said.

He also mentioned that a first minister was appointed during the Djuanda cabinet, when the nation adopted, temporarily, the system of the United States (RIS) in the 1950s.

"The idea of having a first minister was phased out after the nation went back to the constitution in July 1959," he said.

Legislator A. Effendy Choirie of the National Awakening Party (PKB) was more cynical in his assessment, saying that it was part of a grand plan to undermine the president's ability to manage his cabinet.

"The plan was intended to unveil Gus Dur's need for help and to block his leadership," Effendy told reporters at the sidelines of PKB's national coordination meeting.

Effendy also said the idea did not make any sense because Gus Dur, Megawati and all the cabinet members were able to work effectively together.

"We all have to give the newly formed cabinet a chance to work, it has only been eight months," he remarked.

Acting State Secretary Bondan Gunawan also said that it was unnecessary to appoint a first secretary but stressed that the decision would be up to the People's Consultative Assembly and the House of Representatives.

"In my opinion, he (Abdurrahman) has enough (aides) but if the people ask for it, it is okay," Bondan said, adding that doing this would mean making a few cabinet rearrangements, but without eliminating coordinating ministers.

Political observer Pratikno and legal expert Jimly Asshiddiqie joined in the chorus of opposition to the idea, saying that it would only complicate policy making in the cabinet.

"The layers of policy making would become even thicker and more asphyxiating if yet another post under the President was created," said Pratikno from Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University.

"It's useless since the problem is really the fault of the country's leadership," Jimly from University of Indonesia said in Bandung.

He suggested the separation of head of state and head of government due to the complicated problems faced by a big country such as Indonesia.

Nevertheless, there were some supporting voices amidst all the discontent.

People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais and United Development Party's senior legislator Aisyah Amini said that it would be very helpful for the President to have a person who can directly help manage such affairs.

"But it's up to the President to make the decision," Amien was quoted by Antara as saying after a mass gathering at Al-Azhar grand mosque.

Aisyah suggested that the idea to appoint a first minister be discussed by the Assembly. (25/44/rms/dja/jun)