Fri, 06 Jun 2003

Legislators move to delay education bill

The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Twenty-five legislators from various factions in the House of Representatives (DPR) called for a delay on Thursday of the endorsement of the national education bill that combined educational and religious issues.

The call was made in response to the growing rejection of the bill that has sparked controversy among the public in particular schools and education experts.

Effendi Choirie of the National Awakening Party (PKB) faction said he was the 25th legislator to sign the petition that was handed to him 10 days ago.

"It's likely that the number of legislators signing the petition will increase," he told the press at his office.

Choirie disclosed that most of the 25 legislators were from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) and Golkar factions. So far, he is the only legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB) to support the move.

He said that the endorsement of the controversial bill must be delayed to avoid religious friction.

Some legislators admitted that they were aware of the move but had not been invited to sign the petition.

Rekso Ageng Herman, Nyoman Gunawan and Firman Jaya Daeli from PDI Perjuangan and Anthonius Rahail from Indonesian Nationhood (KKI) factions said they backed the call for the postponement.

Legislators and the Ministry of National Education are scheduled to settle some contentious issues on June 9 before the legislators bring the bill to a plenary meeting the next day for endorsement.

Meanwhile, people staged rallies in several cities both in support of and in protest against the controversial bill.

Hundreds of people from the Society that Cares for National Education (MPPN) demonstrated against the bill outside the House, saying that the bill contained discriminatory and unfair regulations.

The Forum of Indonesian Youths for Nationhood (FKPI) stated that the education bill gave the chance to the government to meddle in religious affairs despite the fact that it was an individual right.

In Surakarta, Central Java, around 10,000 people staged a rally in the city's downtown area, urging the House to cancel the bill endorsement.

Most of the protesters were students and teachers from Protestant and Catholics schools supported by Muslim and Buddhist groups.

In a statement, the protesters demanded the government give freedom and space to religious-based schools to run their curriculum as they see fit.

Coordinator of the protest Rev. Hartono said that the public may choose not to vote in the elections should the House endorse the education bill.

In Sikka regency, a predominately Catholic area, in East Nusa Tenggara province, people threatened to secede from the unitary republic of Indonesia should the education bill pass into law.

Around 15,000 protesters rejected the bill and unfurled 112 banners during a rally outside the local legislative council.

The protesters were welcomed by legislative council speaker Oligius Lusi Meak Gudipung and Sikka Regent Alexander Longginus.

They said that the education bill gave the government the chance to intervene in religion, a domain that was a personal matter and that it was the right of every citizen to practice his or her own religion.