Sat, 08 Apr 2000

Election by the people

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid was cheered when he said recently that his government would propose that the next president and vice-president be elected directly by the people in 2004. The reason for the applause he drew was obvious. Megawati Sukarnoputri did not become president although her party won last year's parliamentary poll. She was elected vice-president, while Wahid, who was fielded by a coalition of small Islamic parties, was elected president.

Making the president and vice-president directly-elected officials would put more power in the hands of the voters and curtail the influence which legislators enjoy now. And if they win a clear majority in elections, they will be able to govern with a strong mandate. That cannot but be good for Indonesia.

Of course, it is ultimately Indonesians who must decide what kind of presidency they prefer. But foreign well wishers would hope that any changes which are made will succeed, with success depending on the ability of a mature electorate to vote, not on the basis of narrow and parochial interests, but with the needs of Indonesia as a whole at heart. That will take some time.

-- The Straits Times, Singapore