Tue, 06 Aug 2002

Bargaining for a final price at the MPR's Annual Session

More proposals of an independent constitution commission have somewhat balanced the demands to return to the 1945 Constitution; but political parties are still "holding hostage" their favorite articles in the Constitution. Another problem is the legality of the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR)itself, says political lecturer Riswandha Imawan of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. He talked to The Jakarta Post's reporter Sri Wahyuni.

Question: The demand to return to the 1945 Constitution has led to concerns of a repeat of the 1959 Presidential Decree. How do you see this?

Answer: There is no reason to issue such a decision. The country would have to be declared to be in a state of emergency.

This is only possible when anti-reform and pro-reform groups of the same strength are involved in a conflict and end up in a deadlock that can cause constitutional crisis, leading to national disintegration. Theoretically, such a situation will not emerge in the present context.

First, there has emerged talk of the establishment of an independent constitutional commission, which I support because it's a very rational choice to settle the amendment process.

Second, lobbying among the political elite has on earlier occasions led to an agreement to avoid deadlock.

Q: So what are the main constraints in this MPR session?

A: The most worrying factor is the fact that some parties are taking particular articles in the Constitution hostage (to achieve their interests). The Regional Representatives' faction has taken Article 31 and Article 16 hostage in a bid to maintain their existence at the Assembly.

Islamic-oriented political parties have taken Article 29 hostage (to try to change it to enable the adoption of sharia for Muslims) in a bid to make nationalist parties lower their bargaining position regarding the second round of the direct presidential elections. This is what could lead to a deadlock in the session.

However, this is only part of the game theory that the parties are playing -- trying to maximize their own interests by minimizing other parties' interests. This is what we can expect during these 10 days (of the Annual Session until Aug. 10). Politicians are always buying time.

(Current developments) may look like the makings of a deadlock that could lead to a constitutional crisis and a return to the 1945 Constitution. Yet, if we observe how politics is conducted in Indonesia, you should not worry. An agreement among the top figures of the parties has already been made.

Last year's MPR session was an example of how a crucial situation on the last day of the session could be resolved thanks to a short informal meeting among top party leaders; an agreement was reached in the last minutes of the session. On this occasion, an agreement has been made even before the session has begun.

Q: Could you elaborate on the conditions prior to the issuance of the July 5, 1959 Presidential Decree?

A: It was the Konstituante, an institution that had the task of drawing up the Constitution, which was dismissed by then president Sukarno.

Some regions were trying to break away from the republic as a result of the government's incompetence in handling problems. The military was also very actively involved in politics, not to mention the intense confrontation between political parties. Top party leaders were competing to get close to the president. They refused to compromise, especially regarding state ideology and the Jakarta Charter (which includes the statement that Muslims should practice their religion according to their teachings, taken to mean the adoption of sharia).

We can still avoid such a crisis. Just look at the repeated statements of MPR Speaker Amien Rais regarding, for example Article 29. He said he would try to discuss various alternatives. If the parties refused to adopt one, there's no reason to not return to the original formulation.

So (the apparent threat to return to the 1945 Constitution) is not a final price that cannot be bargained. It's just an experiment (to get the best that the parties can bargain for).

Q: The Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police faction earlier raised a number of options regarding the amendment process: To return to the 1945 Constitution -- later corrected to mean to return to original articles if new formulations were not agreed upon; to set up an independent constitutional commission and to treat the amended constitution as a transitional one before such a commission is established...

A: (To return to the 1945 Constitution) would indeed be ridiculous. It's obvious that the original script (of the Constitution) was executive heavy. It did not explicitly regulate human rights and did not clearly state the check-and-balance mechanism that enables control by political institutions.

Q: The suspicion remains that the TNI's main target is reinstating the 1945 Constitution. What is your comment on this matter?

A: There are some figures in the TNI, particularly elderly ones, who feel their achievements have been betrayed -- (the 1959 reinstatement of) the 1945 Constitution.

But there are also many TNI figures who are capable of seeing that a constitution is not a holy book. It can be adapted according to developments. But they also want to remind us not to go too far. They do not want the MPR to act beyond its authority.

So I think (such figures) are trying to remind us to think more rationally, that according to the previous amendment, this (amendment process) must be done through a Constitutional Court.

Q: Would demands to return to the old Constitution by TNI be an effort to restore its existence in politics?

A: Yes, the argument would be that they're needed for national stability. The best option would be to treat the Constitution as a transitional constitution while waiting for the establishment of an independent constitutional commission.

The toughest problem that the MPR is facing is that it has abolished its own existence by amending Article 1 of the Constitution regarding its function and position. Therefore, the key factor for this year's Annual Session is the establishment of a Constitutional Court.

So the MPR should just focus on this because the amended article says approval to an amendment to the Constitution can only be authorized by the courts.

Q: What's the worst possibility should the unamended Constitution be reinstated?

A: It would cause the restoration of authoritarianism, with the military as the most triumphant party.