Fri, 09 Aug 2002

MPR Annual Session 2002: Some crucial issues

J. Soedjati Djiwandono, Political Analyst, Jakarta

From the outset, this year's Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) has been overshadowed by expectations of a deadlock. The political parties had agreed that they would avoid such a deadlock -- but may be regarded as a deadlock is yet to be clearly defined. A complete failure? A partial failure? What issues should be the criteria?

Such an expectation was strongly expressed by the Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto on the eve of the opening of the session when he said that the amendment process had deviated from its original purpose. Indeed, this kind of view is not a monopoly of the TNI and the Police alone.

At any rate, the General's statement could not but lead to a controversy on whether he was in position to make such a statement, in effect dictating to the MPR, the supreme governing body of the country's political system based on the 1945 Constitution. Gen. Agus Wijoyo, a deputy at the MPR, has defended the TNI's political position on the ground of its representatives in the TNI/National Police faction in the MPR. The point is that Gen. Endriartono is not one of those representatives, and that he made that political statement outside the MPR forum.

The next statement, however, is that the TNI and the National Police will support any decision made at the upcoming Annual Session including the possibility of issuing a decree providing for the reinstatement of the 1945 Constitution if this was considered the best choice for the country. Now what would a return to the 1945 Constitution mean: The original text, or that including amendments I, II, and III -- already agreed by the MPR?

The next crucial issue is the direct presidential election. A direct election of the president and vice president in one ticket, given the general agreement by most factions in the MPR -- should logically result in the MPR being stripped altogether of its main functions: To elect the president and vice president, to determine the outline of state policy, and to hear accountability reports by the president at the end of his or her terms.

The process should be reversed. An institution will need to be established because some function is to be performed, not a function to be created for institution already established. Thus the idea of giving the MPR a function to elect the president and vice president in the second round of a direct election of the president and vice president in one ticket, in the event that no candidate wins a majority of over 50 percent in the first round of the direct election, is a sham -- a pretext to maintain the existence of the undemocratic MPR.

The legislature should then consist of two separate chambers, whatever they each are to be called and however they are to be elected. The two chambers can then have joint sessions, but not forming a single institution consisting of the legislature (DPR) and a body of the imaginary functional representatives. The DPR is like the House of Representatives in the United States, and the other chamber is similar to the U.S. Senate.

The MPR, the supreme governing body of the political system under the (unamended) 1945 Constitution, with unlimited powers, is the most prominent evidence of the undemocratic nature of this Constitution. It has served only to sustain a dictatorship, under Sukarno's guided democracy and the Pancasila democracy under Soeharto's New Order. This is the opportunity to get rid of it.

Reform is a change within and through the existing constitution; within and through the existing system. We can thus use the MPR for the benefit of the whole nation, rather than to sustain some form of a dictatorship. So reform in that sense may indeed end up with a completely new constitution.

Moreover, all indications point to the transitional nature of the 1945 Constitution. Without repeating what these historical and political indications are, one should not be blinded by rhetoric, made-up logics and false arguments. References to the founding fathers are just a fallacy of authority in informal logics, with which many of our political elite do not seem to be familiar, because few of them ever learn.

Another crucial issue is the more than half-a century old demand for the inclusion of the sharia into the constitution, this time through amendment of article 29 rather than into the preamble as before. This efforts of many Muslims by various means for long since before the proclamation of independence, if genuinely out of a religious conviction and dedication to the whole nation and to humanity, rather than out of political or power interest, deserve respect and appreciation.

However, if we are all to be committed to the idea of one nation, then we should bear in mind these factors: In the light of our diversity in so many things, we can only continue to remain a united nation if we are bound by common universal human values. We should be ready to engage in a never-ending process to find and to develop those common values. Failing in some, we have to learn to understand and accept those differences.

Secondly, the institution of the state is never established to implement any particular religious laws and teachings. The state as a human institution is designed to promote general welfare (including public order) based on justice for its citizens. If the state, through its laws and law enforcing agencies, should punish, say, a thief, it would not be because he or she has violated a religious law or religious teaching (for the Christians, for instance, a sin against one of the 10 commandments "Thou shall not steal", but because he or she has disturbed public order by encroaching on someone else's rights.

In the long term, it would not make an essential difference whether the MPR annual session this year would eventually agree to amending article 29. If it does, it would be the beginning, or perhaps to be more accurate, the continuation of the disintegration of this nation. If not, then we can expect the nation to continue to be forever beset by social tension and worse, social conflicts with all their dire consequences.

Then we can forget about economic recovery, stability and security. For our nation-state will forever be rocked at its very foundation. Indeed, it would be a serious question of our survival as a nation.

What about the next MPR annual session 2003, in the light of expenses, its agenda, a lack of vision on the part of its members on where we are really going, their lack of understanding of what reform or constitutional amendment is all about, and the lack of understanding of the MPR's own functions? Should the MPR convene again? It is not even worth a serious answer, except, "You must be joking!"