Thu, 25 May 2000

MPR sizes up direct election of president

JAKARTA (JP): People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) members began tabling proposals on Wednesday for a Constitutional amendment on presidential elections, with a majority of factions supporting a new system in which the people directly elect the president.

The only opposition was from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), societal group representatives and the Indonesian Military/Police of the 10 factions in the Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

Should a vote go to a plenary Assembly session in August, the combined votes of the seven factions would pass the two-thirds minimum requirement in the 700-seat Assembly.

Without crossover votes the three opposing direct elections are unlikely to block the amendment. Their combined votes would only total 301 in the Assembly.

Based on Article 6 of the 1945 Constitution, the president and vice president are elected by the Assembly.

But the debate on the mechanism for the election continues even among supporters of the proposal.

The Golkar Party faction, the most prepared in presenting a detailed electoral blueprint, proposed that presidential candidates win in about two-thirds of the provinces, aside from gaining a majority of the popular vote.

Golkar Party spokesman Slamet Effendy Yusuf said the aim of the system was to ensure the electoral winner was someone supported by the whole country and not merely popular in one dense population center.

"So even if you win on the island of Java, it's not a guarantee that you've won the election," he said.

If adopted, the system would likely favor parties with a strong standing in all provinces.

Golkar was the second highest vote-getter in the 1999 general election, with most of its support outside of Java, particularly in the eastern part of Indonesia.

Java, which has the most eligible voters, was dominated by PDI Perjuangan and the National Awakening Party (PKB) during the elections.

PKB's proposal supported the idea of a candidate having to win in two-thirds of the provinces, but said a nominee only needed to receive 25 percent of the total vote.

The Crescent Star Party faction sought a simple popular majority from the voting booth.

Ironically, it was PDI Perjuangan, the highest vote getter in the past election, which led the opposition on Wednesday to the proposal.

Party representatives argued the system was unsuitable for the country and its multiparty system.

"We fear the direct election would only produce a popular leader, such as an attractive person with a lot of money but lacking quality," PDI Perjuangan's spokesman Harjono argued.

He contended the multiparty system in the country, with 40 parties taking part in the last elections, would render it difficult for a presidential candidate to gain a majority of the popular vote.

Societal group representative spokesman Sudarjanto said there was nothing wrong with an indirect election system and it did not undermine political legitimacy, pointing to countries like Germany and Italy.

Another societal group representative, Valina Subekti, said the public was not ready for such a system after being politically weakened under Soeharto for 32 years.

"We don't reject the direct election, the system could be applied for the 2009 general election after we educate people and prepare the system," Valina said.

Slamet brushed aside the concerns: "Never underestimate the people. We are ready to prepare the law on the presidential election if the amendment is approved by the Assembly in August."

Representatives of the Unity and Nationality Faction (FKKI) noted the paradox that the last general election winner was leading the opposition to the direct election.

"The party which won the general election always complained that the president doesn't come from their party. It could be avoided if we applied direct presidential elections," FKKI's Antonius Rahail said. (jun)