Tue, 30 Aug 1994

In pursuit of better DPR

Indonesians have just heard yet another moan of discontent about the way the House of Representatives (DPR) functions. This time the lament was voiced by no less than the Speaker of the DPR, Wahono.

It is saddening to note that this is not the first time a DPR figure has pointed a finger at the legislative body's failure to perform. Wahono's predecessor, Mohammad Kharis Suhud, also fretted about the problem, when he was at the helm there a few years ago.

With this latest lament, it is exceedingly clear that very little, if any, progress has been made since.

The executive branch of the government, which is said to have the last say about how effectively the DPR should function, is not totally to be blamed for the grim picture.

In the eyes of the public, the quality of many of the legislators clearly stands in question. But before one speaks too critically about the quality of the DPR members and how they have carried out their constitutional duties, one should first ask whether the general election system supports the election of quality representatives?

History shows us that things were once very different. One has only to review the impressive performance of the appointed members of the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) who acted as midwives for the birth of the New Order between 1966 and 1968. And the performance of the legislators put into office in the 1971 general election continued to be exemplary, despite the fact they found themselves in a position in which it was not possible to accelerate their check and balance duties.

That trend continues today. So much so that Wahono has felt the need to repeat his plea to legislators to do some serious soul-searching in facing the mounting criticism addressed to them by the public.

In recent years, society has been changing rapidly, while the function of the legislators has shown no significant improvement. The nation's economic progress has produced not only better educated people, but also people who are more straightforward in expressing their demands for greater democracy.

In the self-examination process called for by the speaker, the legislators perhaps need to consider the reality outside the DPR building. There is now a growing middle class and a more militant younger generation -- not to mention the press -- which still have to maximize their roles as agents of social control.

We feel the need to respond to Wahono's lament on the basis of the fact that the nation's constitution clearly advocates a strong House of Representatives, along with an effective administration for this country.

The legislature is now 49 years old and the relationship between the two still needs balancing.

The administration can do a lot to improve the situation. For example, by providing the legislative body with an adequate budget to finance its constitutional tasks, such as inquiry, the hiring of expert consultants and the sponsoring of bills, something the DPR has neglected for more than two decades.

Last but not least, no member of the prestigious body will ever have the courage to speak out on the people's aspirations as long as they stand under the shadow of being recalled by their parties for overt outspokenness.

The revocation of the parties' recall right would surely help legislators to function more properly at their tasks, rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner when public opinion exerts extreme pressure on them, as in the case of the banning of the notorious SDSB lottery.

In the past the administration might have believed that a highly outspoken DPR could destabilize the country because of the left-wing and right-wing elements suspected to be among the representatives. However, there does not seem to be any further reason for such caution because all political groups here have adopted the same ideological basis: Pancasila. Not to mention the fact that the nation's servicemen still serve as a stabilizing factor in the lawmaking process.