Tue, 08 Jul 2003

Presidential elections bill endorsed

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives endorsed the bill on presidential elections on Monday, paving the way for the country's first ever direct elections in 2004.

"We agreed to endorse this bill so that people can elect their president directly," said Hamdan Zulva, a legislator from the Islamic-based Crescent Star Party. "It is one of our best achievements."

Indonesia is expected to hold a direct presidential election between June and August 2004.

The bill does not require candidates to have a university degree, allowing President Megawati Soekarnoputri to run for reelection despite never finishing college.

It also allows convicted criminals whose cases are under appeal to run for the presidency, opening the door for House Speaker Akbar Tandjung to become president. Akbar was convicted last year of corruption and sentenced to three years in jail but remains free pending appeal.

Legislator Yusuf Muhammad said on Monday the bill was a starting point for the long process of electing a president.

"So do not expect everything from the bill, as if it were the ultimate instrument for settling all problems," he said.

The country requires four bills as the legal basis for the 2004 legislative and presidential elections.

The newly endorsed presidential elections bill, however, immediately drew criticism from non-governmental organization activists, who insisted the draft violated the 1945 Constitution.

The bill, which will automatically become law after two months, limits the number of parties allowed to field candidates in the upcoming presidential election to those that garner 5 percent of the vote or 3 percent of the seats in the legislative election scheduled for April 5.

"That stipulation is unconstitutional," Center for Electoral Reform director Smita Notosusanto said during a press conference after the House endorsed the bill.

Article 6A (2) of the Constitution states that presidential candidates and their running mates shall be nominated by political parties or coalitions of parties contesting the legislative elections.

However, constitutional law experts Jimly Ashidiqqie of the University of Indonesia and Abdul Mukti Fadjar of Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java, said the bill did not violate the Constitution.

Jimly emphasized that the electoral threshold was a "technical elaboration" on the Constitution.

"Restrictions are known in many countries. Developed countries also have adopted electoral thresholds," he told The Jakarta Post.

Jimly said the stipulation must not be viewed as a restriction, but as a requirement for political parties to prove they have the support of the people.

The home ministry had proposed that only political parties or coalitions of parties winning at least 20 percent of the seats in the House be allowed to nominate presidential candidates.

After much negotiation, this threshold was lowered to 3 percent of the seats for the 2004 elections.

Mukti Fadjar also said this stipulation was not a violation to the Constitution, though he acknowledged that ideally all political parties would be allowed to nominate presidential candidates.

"Well, there is a restriction. This is because the Constitution and the law were deliberated by politicians. So the result is a compromise among the politicians," Mukti told the Post.

Leaders of the House special committee that deliberated the presidential elections bill said in the end compromise was necessary to resolve all of the contentious issues surrounding the bill.

"We always try hard to follow all of the regulations set out in the Constitution. Since the House is a political institution, it is normal to have compromise," committee chairman Teras Narang said.

With the endorsement of the presidential elections bill, there is one final elections bill awaiting endorsement, namely the bill on the composition of legislative bodies.

Two other bills -- on political parties and elections -- were endorsed earlier and have become law.