Mon, 17 Sep 2001

President 'must be people's choice'

JAKARTA (JP): Future Indonesian presidents should be the people's choice, observers said over the weekend.

They threw their weight behind a direct presidential electoral system, which has been a topic of public debate in recent days.

Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and Ramlan Surbakti of Airlangga University, Surabaya, support a presidential electoral system that would not involve the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Ikrar said that when the MPR convened in November, the highest law-making body should come out with a decree on direct presidential elections. He proposed that a direct electoral system be applied starting from 2004.

All political factions in the MPR have principally agreed to a direct presidential election, but each has its own model.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the largest faction, for example, has proposed that presidential elections should be part of general elections. Any political party which wins 51 percent or more of the vote would have the right to name its leaders as the president and vice president. If any party failed to win a majority, the presidential election would be entrusted to the MPR.

While Golkar, the second largest faction, is more "progressive", proposing elections without MPR involvement.

"PDI Perjuangan is taking the wrong approach and it underestimates people's competence in electing their president," Ikrar said.

Ikrar said he was amazed at why PDI Perjuangan, which won the 1999 general election, still wanted to involve the MPR in presidential elections.

PDI Perjuangan should learn from the 1999 presidential election when its chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri was defeated by Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid from the minority National Awakening Party (PKB), he said.

He said that Megawati could have won the presidency if the presidential election had been the direct electoral system.

Under the present system, the president and vice president are elected by the MPR as the 1945 Constitution mandates. The MPR is currently working on amendments to the Constitution.

"There should be two phases of a presidential election. The first is candidacy and the second is to elect the president and vice president," Ramlan told The Jakarta Post.

In the first stage, the people would vote for political parties, which already have presidential and vice presidential candidates.

The presidential candidates would be selected from the two parties that win the most votes. Then the people would directly elect the president they like, he said.

Meanwhile, Smita Notosusanto of the Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro) doubted political parties' genuine intention to endorse direct elections because all factions still wanted to involve the MPR.

Cetro has been campaigning for reform of the 1945 Constitution and direct presidential elections.

"The ongoing debate on direct presidential elections at the MPR is only politicians' trick to make people think that they are sensitive to public demand," Smita said.

She stressed that as long as the MPR retained the authority to elect the president and the vice president, horse-trading resulting in a weak coalition government would also persist. (09/dja)