Tue, 15 Aug 2000

Jacob Tobing mindful of duty but not overawed

JAKARTA (JP): How does it feel to be in charge of a commission assigned to alter the nation's Constitution?

"Anxious," was Commission A chairman Jacob Tobing's answer.

In the last two sessions of the People's Consultative Assembly, in October and the current annual session, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) legislator has been a man to watch.

Not necessarily for his political power, but for his apt political and leadership skills that have propelled him to a position of influence in the proceedings.

This time around he is charged with heading a commission tasked with amending the Constitution.

The 57-year old senior politician told The Jakarta Post on Monday he would like the amendment to progress smoothly and swiftly, but on the other hand he understand that a hasty decision could cost the nation dearly.

"On the one hand I feel responsible to accomplish the task and urged my fellow Assembly members to realize that. But there are some uncertain feelings because many sensitive issues, if not decided wisely, will give immediate or long term negative impact," Jacob said.

The soft-spoken legislator recognizes that the future of the country may depend on his decisions and direction during the amendment hearings.

He extols the power of prayer for helping him through trying times.

"However big the responsibilities, I always manage to pass through the night and sleep well after I say my prayers and ask my Lord to give me strength and wisdom to face the next day," he added.

Jacob also points out that as a leader of a commission, one should always try to communicate with colleagues as much as possible.

"I always try to have good communication with my fellow commission members. Luckily I have a great group here and I guess it's only human if there are one or two people who are a little bit different," Jacob remarked.

Born in Riau on July 13, 1943, Jacob received a masters degree in economics and politics from Harvard University in the United States. He has been married to Adriana Sihotang since 1971. They have two sons and two daughters.

But Jacob is not without his detractors. Many have accused him during the current annual session of being too slow in pushing the commission to conclude the amendments.

Many have also questioned the intention of Jacob to really finish the amendments as his party has taken a strong stance to keep the current 1945 Constitution unchanged.

In reply, Jacob called on his critics to understand the monumental issues at hand.

"I'm not trying to hamper the process. People should understand we have a strong emotional relationship with the 1945 Constitution," he added.

In the past when he headed the Indonesian Election Committee, many also alleged he helped his party win the 1999 general election.

But Jacob remained calm and seemingly without vengefulness.

"One thing is important. We should never strike back at accusations because it will be very unhealthy. Just leave them be, people will finally see the truth," Jacob said.

Jacob's political career is unique.

Before joining PDI Perjuangan in 1998, he was one of Golkar Party's deputy chairmen from 1988 to 1993.

When asked to compare the two parties, Jacob said PDI Perjuangan represented people from a more pluralistic background.

"It is more egalitarian. Supporters come from varied backgrounds and are very nationalistic. In PDI Perjuangan we can find the most intellectual to most simple people. While Golkar comprises mostly intellectuals and has a solid structure," he said.

Jacob said he sees Indonesia through PDI Perjuangan. Adding with a smile that PDI Perjuangan is more interesting, though more chaotic than Golkar. (dja)