Wed, 29 Mar 2000

PDI-P defends its role in presidential election

SEMARANG (JP): The executive board of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) blamed "unhealthy democratic practices" rather than inept party lobbying for its failure to get Megawati Soekarnoputri elected president in October.

"Despite the party's victory in the 1999 general election, it could not implement the 1998 Bali congress's decision to get chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri elected as the country's fourth president," Tarto Sudiro, a member of the party's outgoing executive board, said as he read the executive's accountability report at a plenary session of the congress here on Tuesday.

"This was because the presidential election mechanism based on the 1945 Constitution makes divergencies from the substance of democracy possible," he said.

The lengthy accountability report, read in turn by Megawati, secretary-general Alex Litaay, Theo Syafei and Tarto, focused on the work of the executive, and in particular its failure in the October presidential election.

Tarto dismissed public criticism that the failure of the party's faction at the People's Consultative Assembly was because they did not establish a strong lobby compared to other political factions.

He acknowledged that there were many who "blamed party faction members' arrogance ... (and the) turning down of power sharing with other factions", but contended that they had staged an all- out battle during the October general session of the Assembly.

Megawati had been the favorite to replace the then president B.J. Habibie at the start of the general session, after PDI Perjuangan had swept to victory in the June general election.

However, she lost to Abdurrahman Wahid in the historic presidential elections at the 700-seat Assembly on Oct. 20.


Defending the work of the outgoing executive board, Tarto pointed out that in democratically developed countries there was a consensus that the political party winning the elections had the primary right to form the government.

"But in Indonesia this does not prevail because of an unhealthy democracy," he said, while charging that "constitutional loopholes were exploited by other political forces to foil the PDI Perjuangan candidacy".

Tarto also claimed that certain "anti-Megawati factions" in the Assembly used all means, including raising religion and gender issues, to stifle their candidate.

"The atmosphere in the presidential election was dominated by emotion rather than rationale, with the consequence that negotiations, lobbying and other tools became idle," he said.

Explaining the reason for Megawati's acceptance to run for the vice presidency a day after she was defeated by Abdurrahman, Tarto said it was done to avert a critical political impasse, which, due to the wide-scale disappointment of grassroots Megawati supporters, could have jeopardized national unity.

Apart from defending the executives's failings, the accountability report also slammed corruption during the B.J. Habibie administration.

It also criticized Habibie's decision to allow a ballot in the former province of East Timor.

"Habibie had no authority to take such a decision because his government was transitional," Tarto remarked.

Later in the evening, PDI Perjuangan deputy chairman Mochtar Buchori expressed confidence that despite a few negative reactions, the report was likely to be unanimously accepted by the congress.

Political expert and noted PDI Perjuangan-watcher Cornelis Lay, who is participating in the congress as an observer, hailed the accountability speech, saying that despite Megawati's loss in the presidential election, her readiness to be nominated as vice president was to her credit.

"Megawati accepted the nomination to avoid a possible political confrontation between the two powerful political forces -- the nationalist camp and the traditionalist Muslim one," he said.

With Megawati not expected to face any serious challenges to her re-election, attention has focused here on the candidates for the strategic post of party secretary-general.

Widely talked about candidates include incumbent Alex Litaay, Roy Janis, the head of the party's Jakarta chapter and Cornelis Lay. (har/swa/rms)