Tue, 18 Sep 2001

PKB to propose direct presidential election

JAKARTA (JP): The National Awakening Party (PKB) announced on Monday that it would bring the proposed establishment of a constitutional commission and direct presidential election before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) for approval during the Annual Session in November.

Yusuf Muhammad, the chairman of the PKB faction at the Assembly, said approval of the proposed constitutional commission and direct presidential election at the Annual Session would be a strategic and important step, as it would be a comprehensive amendment to the Constitution and would return sovereignty to the people.

"We want a comprehensive amendment to the Constitution to be completed in 2002 and a direct presidential and vice presidential election to be implemented in 2004," he said at a news conference.

He said that PKB, in its meeting on Saturday, recommended that the constitutional commission consist of 99 members -- 25 from the MPR, 20 experts, 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representatives and 34 regional representatives.

The offer for the establishment of an independent constitutional commission came from President Megawati Soekarnoputri and has won the support of many NGOs and political experts, while most factions at the Assembly have rejected the idea.

Yusuf, who is also a member of PKB's advisory council, said in regard to the amendment to the Constitution, his party was of the opinion that the Assembly should be a joint session between the House of Representatives and regional representatives, instead of a permanent institution.

"Under the joint session concept, MPR would have the main tasks of formalizing a new Constitution, swearing in a new president and vice president and impeaching a president, while the presidential election would be returned to the public," he said.

The Golkar Party, United Development Party, National Mandate Party and other minority parties threw their weight behind the proposed direct presidential election in 2004 while the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), a major faction at the Assembly, was firm on maintaining the current mechanism.

Dimyati Hartono, a legislator of PDI Perjuangan, said his party wanted to maintain the indirect presidential election as it was stipulated by the Constitution.

"We see nothing wrong with the present mechanism. The problem is that in past presidential elections, the MPR has abused the Constitution and people's sovereignty," he said.

Dymiati, who is also a professor of law at Diponegoro University in Semarang, Central Java, called for an in-depth study on the direct presidential election system and its political impact so that once the nation adopted it, it would last a long time.

From Yogyakarta, Assembly Speaker Amien Rais reiterated that his party and many other factions at the Assembly would back a direct presidential election in 2004.

"I think most of the Assembly legislators want a direct presidential election in 2004," he said.

Amien said the direct presidential election would be a step forward for Indonesia's democracy. "How nice it would be if there is a directly elected president in Indonesia in 2004," he said.

Arief Budiman, a political observer from Melbourne University, said Indonesia should conduct the direct presidential election in 2004, despite risking conflict among party supporters.

"I'm not really sure if a direct election in 2004 would run well and generate a perfect result, of course. But we have to brave this test to reach democracy. I'm sure in the long-run it will be done better," he said after a political discussion at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta on Monday.

He said a direct presidential election in 2004 would be vulnerable to conflict and even ethnic and religious manipulation.

"We should not delay democracy for that reason. The government should improve the public's capacity in curbing conflict," he said, adding that people were becoming more mature in politics.

From Purwokerto, Central Java, Rubiyanto Misman, the rector of Soedirman University, said the nation was not fully prepared for a direct presidential election in 2004 while the current indirect presidential election could no longer be maintained because of the public's weak confidence in the current Assembly.

"The urgent issue is to change the political elite's mentality and to encourage them to play their role fairly and honestly," he said, adding that it would take 20 years before Indonesia could conduct a direct presidential election. (rms/23/44/45)