Tue, 10 Jun 2003

Education bill faces snag

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lobbying to reach agreement on the contentious education bill ended deadlocked on Monday, moving the House of Representatives closer to a vote to decide whether to pass the controversial law, scheduled for Tuesday.

After four hours of debate, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) and the Indonesian Nationhood Unity (KKI) factions insisted the House delay endorsing the bill due to widespread opposition.

But the seven other factions -- Golkar, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Awakening Party (PKB), the Reform faction, the Military/Police faction, the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the Daulatul Ummah Party (PDU) -- wanted the House to vote on the bill during Tuesday's plenary session.

Monday's dispute centered around PDI Perjuangan's proposal to exchange the function and goal of national education.

The stalemate prompted legislators to adjourn the lobbying until Tuesday, just hours before the plenary session.

"Both the people and legislators must share similar perceptions on the bill before it is passed into law. We do not need to rush to endorse it," PDI Perjuangan faction chairman Roy B.B. Janis said Monday.

PDI Perjuangan has threatened to walk out if the House is forced to vote.

Based on House internal rulings, legislators who walk out before a decision is taken are considered present and their absence will not affect the decision.

The 500-member House needs a quorum of a simple majority or 251 legislators to open a plenary session held to make a decision.

The PDI Perjuangan and KKI factions have 165 seats between them.

It remains unclear why the PDI Perjuangan faction opted to walk-out instead of voting on the bill.

The House has been coming under pressure over the bill. Arguments and rallies for and against the bill center on the government's intervention in education and stipulations that schools provide religious instruction for students according to their respective faiths.

Secretary of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) Din Syamsuddin has claimed that about one million Muslims would stage the largest rally ever on Tuesday to push the House to endorse the bill.

The PDI Perjuangan faction suggested legislators promote the substance of the bill among religious leaders before it was endorsed.

However, the suggestion was dismissed by the other seven factions.

A legislator from the Islam-oriented PPP, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, criticized PDI Perjuangan's proposal, saying its would not automatically ease the controversy.

"I don't think the situation will change after religious leaders are briefed about the substance of the education bill," he said.

A.M. Luthfi of the Reform faction dismissed fears of social upheaval should the education bill be endorsed on Tuesday. He said the majority of the nation would accept the bill.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung received a number of delegations from different religious groups, who met him one after another to voice their stance on the controversial bill.

Justice Party (PK) president Hidayat Nurwahid and the executive board of the Islamic Students Association (HMI) urged the lawmakers to endorse the bill immediately.

In a statement distributed to the press, the HMI urged all groups for and against the bill not to mass at the House on Tuesday as it may lead to clashes.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the regencies of Maumere and Sikka in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, rejected the bill because it mixed education with religion.

The delegation headed by legislator Birinus Jos Rahawadan of the KKI faction said the bill did not provide answers to the very basic problems with the national education system.

As an example, he said that 90 percent of specific high school (SMK) students in East Nusa Tenggara did not pass their final exams.

"This shows us that the problem with our education is not the religious aspect, but the science and technology aspect," the delegation said in a statement.