Mon, 07 Aug 2000

First order of business: MPR's rules of the game

JAKARTA (JP): In-house rules may seem trivial to outsiders, but they are essential in the politics of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Since these are the rules by which the political game must be played in the country's powerful Assembly, a battle has been raging in the last few weeks among the factions over proposed changes to the rules.

And if the big factions have their way, the MPR will soon have the extra power to impeach the president.

One of the first orders of business that the MPR has to settle as it starts its Annual Session on Monday is consideration of a new set of rules by which the proceedings are conducted.

Two issues stand out in the proposed new in-house rules.

The first is to give the MPR a new power to turn the Annual Session into an extraordinary session empowered to impeach the president. The second, proposed by regional representatives, is for the establishment of their own faction.

On the first issue, it would be a significant extension of the existing power of the MPR. Although MPR Chairman Amien Rais has already ruled out turning this week's session into an extraordinary meeting, if the proposal is approved, he will have that option anytime he wishes to exercise it in the coming years before President Abdurrahman Wahid completes his term in 2004.

Currently, the MPR can call for a special session only at the request of the House of Representatives.

The proposal for the extension of power was submitted by 28 legislators from the Golkar Party and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) factions, which are the largest in the Assembly.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) faction, the political machine of President Abdurrahman, will not have the power to block the motion if the matter is put to a vote.

PKB accused its detractors of "politicizing" the inhouse rules to serve their own narrow political interests.

"In their struggle for power, the factions are flaunting the constitutional guarantee that a president serves for five years," PKB faction chairman Achmad Effendy Choirie said.

Ikhrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said the in-house rules were originally intended to facilitate the MPR in conducting its tasks.

"The Assembly should not use the internal rules as a weapon to attack the government. It should be consistent with its own decision to elect Abdurrahman as president," he said.

Assembly member Sabam Sirait of PDI Perjuangan who chaired the MPR's in-house rules committee dismissed concerns that the new rules were open to abuse, pointing out that the U.S. Congress has never once used its prerogative to impeach the president.

"But there is no certainty that the Assembly will call for a special session. All will depend on the President's progress report," Sabam said.

Sabam said much of the energy and attention in the coming Session should be devoted to other more important matters such as the motion to amend the Constitution and a host of decrees that the Assembly will enact, including on regional autonomy and the separation of the police from the Military.

The second bone of contention over in-house rules, concerns the establishment of a faction for regional representatives and was introduced at the last minute as the committee wound up its meeting last week.

If the motion were agreed by the MPR, it would drastically alter the balance of power in the Assembly to the point of making the outcome of any vote even less predictable than it is now.

A separate faction for the 164 regional representatives would make it the second largest block of votes after PDI Perjuangan, and would place it ahead of Golkar.

In the last MPR meeting in October, the regional representatives, who were elected by provincial legislative councils, joined with the factions.

Of the 164 representatives, 62 joined Golkar, 39 joined PDI Perjuangan, several others joined PKB, the United Development Party (PPP) and the Reform Faction. A handful chose to be independent.

Sabam said PDI Perjuangan and Golkar were leading the fight to defeat the motion. "The two factions are trying to convince the Assembly that the regional representatives could channel their aspirations through political parties," he said.

The Assembly's current internal ruling states that factions, and not individual members of the MPR, have the right to channel the people's aspirations at the annual session.

PDI Perjuangan insisted that while it had no objection, the establishment of a new faction serves no real purpose since regional representatives were elected by political parties in their respective provinces.

"It really does not matter if the regional representatives form their own faction because it is guaranteed by the Constitution," faction secretary Hery Achmadi said.

Golkar deputy chairman Slamet Effendy Yusuf admitted that a regional representative faction could fight more effectively for regional aspirations.

"The regional representative faction was dissolved at the last MPR General Session at the request of regional representatives themselves. If they want their own faction back, then they can have it," he said.

Constitutional law expert Harun Alrasid of the University of Indonesia said the establishment of a regional representative faction would make the system more democratic and healthy.

By empowering the regions and accommodating their aspirations, it would minimize the threats of separatism, he said.

The past month has seen the establishment of an association of all provincial governors and another association of all regents and mayors throughout the archipelago.

These two new associations have become powerful lobby groups to extract as many concessions as possible from the central government in its preparations to give greater autonomy to the regions starting next year.

Oesman Sapta, chairman of the Forum of Regional Representatives, said the Assembly and existing factions had no valid reason to reject the regional representatives' proposal.

Many of the existing problems facing Indonesia resulted from the failure of the central government to detect and accommodate the aspirations from the people in the regions, Oesman said.

The regional representatives faction, he promised, would play an active role and would not remain neutral on many issues discussed in the Assembly.

"We are not only fighting for a faction, we want to build a solid group to fight for regional aspirations," he said. (rms)