Sat, 26 Apr 2003

Parties seek closed presidential race

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The opportunity for Indonesians to vote for candidates of their choice in the 2004 presidential election is under threat, as the two largest factions in the House of Representatives have sought to limit the number of parties participating in the election.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the largest faction, and Golkar, second-largest, have submitted separately suggestions to the House special commission currently deliberating the presidential elections bill.

PDI Perjuangan, headed by President Megawati Soekarnoputri, has suggested that only parties and coalitions that garner 20 percent or more of legislature seats may field candidates in the first-ever direct presidential election in 2004. If endorsed, there will be five presidential candidates at the most in 2004.

Golkar, on the other hand, has proposed that only parties that win 35 percent or more of legislature seats can nominate candidates. This means there would be only two presidential candidates contesting the election.

PDI Perjuangan has 153 seats, or almost 34 percent of the 500- member House, while Golkar has 120, or 24 percent of House seats. The TNI/police faction, which has 38 members, has thrown its support behind PDI Perjuangan.

Other large political parties -- the National Awakening Party (PKB), United Development Party (PPP) and National Mandate Party (PAN) -- have also submitted suggestions and called for the scrapping of any limitation.

The bill, drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, states that only parties, or coalitions of parties, winning 20 percent of the votes in the legislative election, should be allowed to run for the presidency.

Some small political parties have opposed the limitation, accusing PDI Perjuangan and Golkar of trying to strengthen their grip on power by shutting out other political parties.

Agun Gunandjar Sudarsa of Golkar defended the limitation, saying that the move did not necessarily amount to a restriction on the rights of political parties.

Agun added that the stricter limitation would prompt political parties to form coalitions.

The list of suggestions submitted by political parties also deals with academic requirements for presidential candidates.

All but PDI Perjuangan proposed that presidential candidates should be university graduates. PDI Perjuangan, on the other hand, suggested that a senior high school graduate could run for the country's top post. PDI Perjuangan chairwoman, Megawati, does not have a university degree.

The Golkar faction, meanwhile, rejected a stipulation in the bill that a criminal suspect or convict in a crime that carried a jail sentence of more than five years should not be allowed to contest the presidential election.

According to Golkar legislators, whose chairman Akbar Tandjung was sentenced to three years in jail for corruption involving the State Logistics Agency, banning such a person from being nominated would contradict human rights principles.

Commenting on the wrangling, political analyst and expert adviser to the home ministry Cecep Effendi said on Friday that there was nothing wrong with the arguments of House factions.

"Political parties are formed to accommodate the aspirations of their supporters. It is normal for those factions to fight for their interests," Cecep said at a discussion here on Friday.

Although Cecep did not see the contention as a serious problem, leaders of House factions denied that they were merely fighting for their own vested interests.

Zaenal Arifin, of PDI Perjuangan, acknowledged that party interests from each faction were expressed during deliberations on the presidential elections bill. "That was inevitable," Zaenal added.