Mon, 14 Jul 2003

`Recalling right prone to abuse by parties'

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Political observers criticized the reinstatement of the recalling mechanism in the newly endorsed bill on the composition of legislative bodies, saying it is prone to misuse by political parties that intend to silence outspoken legislators.

J. Kristiadi of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Smita Notosusanto of the Centre of Electoral Reform (CETRO) said that as in the past the recalling mechanism would only give political parties too much power that would in turn endanger democracy.

"The reinstatement of the recalling system is a thoughtless idea. It will only encourage legislators to be loyal to the party's central board instead of their constituents," Kristiadi told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

The recalling system gives a political party the power to withdraw its members from a legislative body if they are deemed to have violated the party statuettes.

He underlined that the House of Representatives and the government had betrayed and humiliated the reform movement that urges the nation to uphold democracy.

The bill on the composition of legislative bodies was passed as the nation braces for the first direct legislative election, in which voters choose both candidates and their political affiliation. In the past, voters picked political parties.

Smita concurred with Kristiadi, saying it should be the constituents who assess the performance of legislators, not the party's executive board.

"Once a person is elected legislator, he or she is no longer the representative of a political party, but the people," Smita told the Post.

She feared the power given to political party's executive board to recall legislators would threaten democracy in the country.

The recalling mechanism is also adopted by Law No. 31/2002 on political parties enacted in November last year, which states that members of the legislature can be replaced if they are dismissed from their respective party for violating party's statutes.

During the era of authoritarian president Soeharto, when the recalling provision was recognized, some outspoken legislators, including Marzuki Darusman and Bambang Warih Kusuma of Golkar, were removed from the House.

Marzuki was recalled soon after telling the press that the ultimate target of a politician was to become president. It was taboo to make such a statement when Soeharto was still in power.

Article 103 (3) on the composition of legislative bodies states that members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the House of Representatives (DPR), the Regional Representatives (DPR), and the Regional Legislative Council (DPRD) cannot be replaced due to any statements or questions they may express, or opinions they hold.

Smita said, however, that such a regulation would not prevent political party's executive board from misusing the power to silence critical legislators.

"As there is no clear description of who will define the recalling it will make the stipulation prone to abuse," she added.

Kristiadi and Smita suggested that the article allowing a political party to recall its members be scrapped, otherwise it would encourage legislators to pledge allegiance to the political party not to the people who vote for them.

Kristiadi said that the recalling must came from the constituents, not by the party's executive board.

He added that a number of 1,000 people could, for example, propose for the replacement of certain legislators they considered underachieving.