Mon, 02 Jun 2003

Education bill debate may be prolonged

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives and the government will likely need more time to bridge their differences over three points in the national education bill.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet on Monday to seek a compromise on the three controversial points: the wording of the bill's introduction, the function and role of the national education system, and religious instruction in the schools.

"I hope the negotiations on Monday will help resolve the difference among the factions and between the House and the government," Chodidjah HM Saleh, deputy chairperson of the House education commission deliberating the bill, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Chodidjah, of the United Development Party (PPP), said all nine factions on the commission had reached an agreement on the three contentious issues, but Minister of National Education Abdul Malik Fadjar had objections.

She added that whether or not the bill was endorsed as scheduled on June 10 depended on the education minister.

Several legislators from the National Awakening Party (PKB) have expressed objections not only to the three contentious issues, but also to several other articles in the bill they say could threaten national unity.

Taufiqurrachman Saleh and Rodjil Gufron, two outspoken PKB legislators, speaking after a party meeting here on Friday, said their faction would only support the bill if all of the controversial articles in it were resolved unanimously.

Both legislators said it was necessary to prevent the state from interfering in religious matters, which they said Article 13 of the bill on religious instruction in the schools amounted to.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction has threatened to walk out of any plenary meeting to endorse the bill unless there are changes made to the disputed articles.

Anwar Arifin of Golkar, meanwhile, is optimistic, saying legislators and the education minister had found common ground and their differences were expected to be resolved shortly.

"We will have more meetings with the minister next week," Anwar told the Post.

Legislators and the government have been divided over the wording of the introduction of the bill, which emphasizes the government's responsibility to protect and educate its citizens.

The two sides have been unable to reach agreement on the function and role of the educational system.

Legislators are also at odds over religious instruction in the schools. Both Chodidjah and Anwar said they had not received any instructions from the PKB faction about this issue.

"We have asked for an explanation from the faction," Anwar said.

There has been much debate over plans to bring the education bill to a House plenary session on June 10 for endorsement.

Those opposing the bill say it allows for state intervention in religious matters, while those supporting the bill say it helps promote religion pluralism.

Muslim organizations have called on the House and the government to endorse the bill, while non-Muslim organizations and schools have called on the House to drop the bill, which they say is a threat to national unity.