Mon, 07 Aug 2000

Constitutional changes raise debate

JAKARTA (JP): The amendment to the 1945 Constitution being prepared by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) adopts numerous new improvements compatible with the climate of reform, but several proposals are generating criticism and deep concern.

Besides reconstructing out-of-date material and ambiguous references that allow for misinterpretation, the Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee preparing the amendments also expect to insert at least two new articles on general elections and human rights.

There is agreement from all factions in the committee that the constitution's preamble, believed to be the spirit of the nation, needs no changes.

They also agreed not to amend articles on the House of Representatives, general elections, ministers, regional administrations, State Audit Agency, the country's territory, citizenship and population, defense and security, economy and social welfare, national flag, language, state symbol and national anthem.

The committee chairman, Jacob Tobing, told The Jakarta Post over the weekend that the preamble and the ten articles were maintained because their substance is still up to date and relevant.

"Our concern is that the state institutions, especially the legislative body and the State Audit Agency were not empowered in the past, causing the absence of a check and balance which led to corruption," he said.


Jacob, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction, conceded that factions in the committee were still divided over numerous crucial matters, especially the state's principles and sovereignty, the Assembly's functions and rights, legislative functions at provincial and regency levels, presidential and vice presidential elections and secession for a vacated vice presidential position.

One of the most crucial debates will be whether factions agree to direct presidential elections.

Initially the Golkar Party faction and several minority factions proposed direct presidential elections starting in 2004 with the PDI Perjuangan faction consistently supporting the current system of presidential election by the Assembly.

The issue came to the fore after strong lobbying from numerous non-governmental organizations for direct presidential elections.

Golkar is believed to support a direct presidential election because of its established network throughout the country.

However, several observers noted that Golkar seems to have changed its position after some closed door lobbying from other parties.

Factions are also divided over the possible inclusion of Islamic law (syariah), in some articles of the constitution, which is being pushed by several Islamic-based parties.

PDI Perjuangan, the Indonesian Military/Police and the Love the Nation Democratic Party factions are among those who oppose the idea.

Observers believe that the inclusion of Islamic law is aimed at winning the sympathy of the predominantly Moslem voters.

"But they seem not to be aware of the pluralist nature of the nation. The nation's heterogeneity with its various ethnicities, races, religions and cultures must be accepted to maintain national integration," said Postdam Hutasoit of the PDI Perjuangan faction.

The amendment process itself has also sparked criticism from experts, observers and nongovernmental organizations which accused the Assembly's Working Committee of failing to heed the people's aspirations.

Constitutional expert Harun Alrasid from the University of Indonesia, opposed the amendment, saying the Assembly has "misunderstood" the constitution which regulates the Assembly's task to make a new constitution to replace the old one.

"The Assembly could adopt a bigger part of the prevailing constitution's materials but they should construct a new constitution," Harun remarked.

He also rued the issuance of numerous Assembly decrees and new draft decrees some of which he claimed were more powerful and some in violation of the constitution itself.

"Seen from a constitutional point of view, these Assembly decrees have no legal basis, they should be revoked. All crucial matters that are not contained in the constitution should be inserted as laws," he said.

He proposed the establishment of an independent expert team to amend the constitution or to make a new constitution.

Mochtar Pabottingi, a senior researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), regretted that all factions at the Working Committee seem trapped in their own political interests and ignored the national interests and the nation's future in constructing the amendment.

He said the reform movement launched three years ago was aimed not only at empowering the legislative bodies but, mainly, at upholding people's sovereignty.

"In constructing the amendment, the Assembly should listen to the people's aspirations and not their parties' political interests," he said.

Non-governmental organizations, law practitioners and universities also criticized the Assembly since it was not transparent in its constitutional amendment deliberations.

Many NGOs complained that all suggestions were left unheeded while the deliberations themselves failed to invite all components of society to participate and give their thoughts and ideas.

Legal activists Bambang Widjojanto lamented that the Assembly had no format or reference in amending the constitution and it has underestimated the capability of the public, including NGOs and experts, by completely neglecting them.

"The Assembly should set up or call for an independent state commission to amend the constitution to make the amendment free from parties' political interests," he said. (rms)