Wed, 12 Sep 2001

NGOs push debate on constitutional commission

JAKARTA (JP): Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are intensively lobbying leaders of political parties at the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) to agree with the proposed establishment of an independent commission to conduct comprehensive amendments to the 1945 Constitution.

They are striving to encourage the MPR to issue a decree, which will be used as the legal basis for the establishment of the constitutional commission, at its annual session scheduled to be held early in November.

"We are making an all-out effort to convince the MPR about the need for a decree to make possible the formation of an independent commission tasked to conduct comprehensive amendments to the Constitution," Hadar N. Gumay of the Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro) told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Hadar said Cetro, together with other NGOs grouped under the Coalition of Nongovernmental Organizations for a New Constitution, have intensified lobbying with leaders of political parties at the MPR.

The MPR and NGOs have been involved in a tug-of-war over the proposal for the establishment of the independent constitutional commission.

Hadar said the NGO Coalition had met with leaders of the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB). "We are now waiting for an opportunity to meet with leaders of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) and Golkar Party."

"PKB had even promised to bring the issue of the independent commission to MPR meetings in order to prepare for the annual session," Hadar said.

Ajeng Kesumaningrum of the Indonesian Foundation to Strengthen People's Participation, Partnership and Initiative (Yappika) said that her organization took part in highlighting the issue to regional leaders.

"We have not given up yet. We need a legal basis to establish such an independent commission. Therefore, we encourage our friends at the MPR to accommodate such an idea," Ajeng told the Post on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hendardi of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Foundation (PBHI) stressed the importance of convincing the public about the necessity of amending the Constitution for the nation's future.

"So far the debate on the constitutional reform has only been for the elite while the public have not been made aware of the importance of this issue. Therefore, our campaign is also targeted to wider elements of the society."

"For over 30 years, the public have been indoctrinated to believe that the 1945 Constitution is sacred and cannot be revised, some of our people still follow such a belief," Hendardi said.

Hadar said that to make the establishment of the independent constitution possible, the MPR was expected to add a paragraph to Article 37 of the 1945 Constitution, which tasks an independent commission to prepare a new constitution.

"Or the MPR issue a decree on this issue," Hadar said, adding that such a decree should be issued at this year's annual session so that the commission could be set up immediately and start working.

"We expect the amended Constitution to be used as the legal basis for the 2004 general elections," according to Hadar.

Commenting on a proposal to hold a referendum to decide such an independent commission, Hadar said it would be too costly to hold such a referendum.

"It would be too expensive if it was decided through a referendum." (02)