Tue, 04 Feb 2003

'Commission no solution to flaws'

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lawmakers will soon start discussions to form a constitutional commission that will improve last year's amendment to the 1945 Constitution, but experts said on Monday the commission would unlikely change fundamental flaws in the new Constitution.

The ad hoc committee of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) for the amendment of the 1945 Constitution, or PAH 1, is to meet on Thursday, Feb. 6, to discuss the commission.

"The commission will do more than just fine tuning, improving the systematic arrangement of the amended Constitution and things like that," said PAH 1 deputy chairman Slamet Effendi Yusuf of the Golkar faction.

Activists have long been calling for an independent constitutional commission. They said the commission would ensure greater public participation and prevent interference from political interests in the amendment of the Constitution.

Last year, the MPR finalized talks on the fourth and last batch of constitutional amendments without the commission. However it issued a decree agreeing to establish one this year.

"PAH 1 is limited by what the MPR decree has outlined as the commission's authority, so if there are hopes for a commission like those found in other countries, I think it won't get that far," said Slamet, following a book discussion seminar by the Indonesian Political Science Association (AIPI).

Slamet was referring to Thailand's model of an independent constitutional commission, which had captured the interest of activists.

Here the amendment was led by lawmakers at the MPR. Public participation was limited to consultation with experts in politics, economics and the law, without necessarily heeding their advice.

The outcome, however, won praise from critics who called it a milestone in Indonesia's then four-year-old reform movement. It paved the way for a direct presidential election and balanced the power relationship between the legislative and executive.

Nonetheless, critics say the amendment suffers from flaws.

For example, while a direct election for a president is essential under the Constitution, it is optional for regents or governors.

"There is no consistency in the election of state officials," said Bambang Widjoyanto of the Coalition for a New Constitution, a group of non-governmental organizations.

Another example was the weak powers invested in members of the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). The DPD and the House of Representatives (DPR) will form the next MPR under a bicameral system adopted by the new Constitution.

But as DPD members will be directly elected by the public, they will have fewer powers than House members, who are appointed by their respective political parties.

Cosmetic changes to the amendments were therefore not enough, said Bambang. He added the coalition had submitted to PAH 1 its review of the final amendment with a list of its shortcomings.

"We'll see whether it (the constitutional commission) will distance itself from its internal political interests to allow a comprehensive review (of the amendment)," he said.

University of Indonesia political analyst Maswadi Rauf said that despite the Constitution's shortcomings, he saw no pressing need to fix them.

"There may not be much pressure for change right now; after all, we haven't yet put into practice the changes we have already made, such as a direct presidential election," he said.

He added last year's amendment opened the way for future changes to the Constitution, should the public deem them necessary.

Slamet agreed, adding that further changes to the Constitution required more time than the commission had at its disposal.

"The commission's work would have taken a long time; it must be systematic, starting from the public, while at the same time, changes to the Constitution need to be implemented. Otherwise, there'll be a gap in the law," he said, explaining the government needed to issue new regulations based on the amendment.