Tue, 06 Aug 2002

Indonesia needs to rewrite Constitution: Coalition

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With deliberations on the establishment of a constitutional commission seemingly unavoidable, experts and activists grouped in the Coalition for A New Constitution have intensified their campaign for an independent commission to rewrite the Constitution.

The coalition met with leaders of the largest faction in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), on Monday to garner support for an independent commission.

Coalition member Todung Mulya Lubis, who was also involved in the drafting of Myanmar's constitution, said constitutional reform was a crucial foundation for successful democratic reform in the country.

"Ideally, the commission would be an independent body whose authority would not be limited to synchronizing the amended 1945 Constitution, but also to formulating a constitution that is open to public participation," he remarked.

It remains unclear whether such a commission would be an independent body or a committee subordinated to the MPR.

The MPR is set to finalize the fourth amendment to the 1945 Constitution and to form a constitutional commission to take over the process they have dominated for the last four years, after being criticized for failing to involve the public in the amendment process.

However, legislators claimed they had spent 27 days presenting the latest draft of amendments in the regions and seeking public input -- albeit in a discreet manner.

The time allotted for seeking public input, which was about 20 percent of the legislators' total working days, however, was considered insufficient compared with other countries.

South Africa, for example, which completed the rewriting of its constitution in two years, used all means available to invite public participation, including translating the draft constitution into 11 different languages spoken in the country.

The coalition, which started campaigning for a new constitution in 1999, has argued that only an independent commission can draft a constitution that embraces the people's aspirations.

They point out that the 1945 Constitution, which is state- oriented and executive heavy, is no longer adequate to accommodate the growing aspirations of a modern state and pluralistic nation.

The amended Constitution, they argue, deviates from the spirit of reform because it simply shifts the overriding power of the president to the legislature, raising suspicions of horse-trading among the MPR politicians to secure their seats and power.

"All we need is a people's constitution, a contract made by the people with the state that is able to serve the people's interests," Bambang Widjojanto of the Center for Electoral Reform said.

A group of legislators have shown resistance to a new constitution, insisting that a constitutional commission be placed under their supervision. The legislators have also rejected the possibility of changing the preamble to the 1945 Constitution, saying it embraces what they believe to be the sacrosanct principles of the country: the Pancasila state ideology and the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.

According to these opponents to a new constitution, rewriting the 1945 Constitution would mean the death of the country. Critics say this ignores the fact that the founding fathers saw the 1945 Constitution as temporary, a document hastily drafted by a team appointed by the Japanese colonialists instead of a legislative body elected by the people.

Founding president Sukarno, father of current President Megawati Soekarnoputri, had ordered the drafting of a people's constitution six months after the passage of the 1945 Constitution on Aug. 18, 1945, a day after the country declared its independence.

There have been efforts to change the Constitution ever since, such as the adoption of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Indonesia from Dec. 27, 1949, to Aug. 15, 1950, and the 1950 Provisional Constitution.

A presidential decree issued on July 5, 1959, reenacted the 1945 Constitution in a bid to end tension between the military- backed government and the Constitution Council, assigned to write a new constitution.

All efforts to create a new constitution were halted during the Soeharto regime.