Tue, 06 Aug 2002

Time running out for constitutional reforms

Kurniawan Hari and Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Legislators on Commission A for constitutional amendments continued deliberating on Monday the crucial issue on the composition of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), with all factions but the Interest Groups faction (FUG) agreeing to scrap the 60-strong FUG from the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung defended the existence of the Indonesian Military/National Police (TNI/Polri) faction, saying there was still the possibility the military and police could remain in the Assembly through an auxiliary regulation in the constitutional amendment.

"We once agreed to allow the TNI/Polri faction to remain (in the MPR) until 2009. We need to review our agreement," he said following the session, adding that Golkar wanted TNI/Polri in the Assembly until 2009.

However, Akbar said legislators should consult with the MPR and the people on the issue.

The chairman of the TNI/Polri faction, Slamet Supriyadi, stressed that the military and police were prepared to abandon politics and leave the House of Representatives and the MPR.

Slamet warned civilian politicians against dragging TNI/Polri back into politics, saying the military was committed to returning to its basic function as a defense force.

The scrapping of the Interest Groups faction, whose members are all appointed, is a consequence of the adoption of a bicameral system as set out in the third constitutional amendment last year.

The decision was a step forward toward the smooth finalization of the fourth amendment. The commission began the deliberations on Sunday, but the process was stalled by a number of legislators interrupting the session.

Among the issues raised by legislators on Sunday was the very existence and authority of the MPR itself.

On the second day of meetings on Monday, several Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) legislators -- Amin Aryoso, Sukono, Suwignyo, Ramson Siagian and Haryanto Taslam -- again questioned the authority of the MPR to carry out constitutional amendments. They also pressed for the establishment of a constitutional commission to take over the responsibility of amending the Constitution from the Assembly.

One of the reasons given for the need to establish the commission was the uncertainty surrounding the status of the MPR. The "antiamendment" camp argues that the MPR has no legal basis to hold its Annual Session, let alone to amend the Constitution.

The MPR's uncertain status is the consequence of chapters VII and VIIA of the second amendment, which state the MPR is no longer the supreme lawmaking body in the country.

In place of the Annual Session, the "antiamendment" camp says, should be a joint session of the House of Representatives (DPR) and the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). The two chapters of the second amendment give the authority to amend the Constitution to the joint session.

However, the third amendment says that the Assembly is still the sole authority for amending and passing the Constitution. Based on the third amendment, the MPR insists it has the authority to form a constitutional commission and place it under its jurisdiction.

While the MPR's existence is in question, the new DPR and DPD are yet to be elected. To make matters more complicated, there is no regulation that gives the MPR the temporary authority to convene and amend the Constitution pending the establishment of a new DPR and DPD.

Although Monday's deliberations were relatively peaceful, several legislators expressed fear that the time left them would be insufficient to complete the discussion of other crucial matters.

Commission A chairman JaKob Tobing expressed concern that the allotted time would not be enough.

"There are still many issues to discuss, therefore we have to continue the deliberations into the night. But I still think that won't be enough," Jakob said during a plenary meeting of Commission A.

According to the schedule issued by the Assembly Secretariat, there are only two days left, Tuesday and Wednesday, for Commission A to deliberate several crucial issues, including six articles of the Constitution.

Jakob said the commission would save time by limiting the number of legislators allowed to voice opinions during discussions.

The commission was set to finish deliberation of the substance of the amendments on Sunday, but failed to do so due to a barrage of protests from PDI Perjuangan legislators on Jacob's nomination as chairman of the commission.

Jakob was eventually appointed commission chairman following intense lobbying, but a number of PDI Perjuangan legislators continued to interrupt the session.

PDI Perjuangan legislator Imam Mundjiat denied accusations that the interruptions were aimed at bringing the session to a deadlock.

He said they were only trying to educate the public about how the people should respond to the amendment process.

Imam added that the maneuvering of his group had been approved by party chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.

"Pak Imam, if you have a proposition or an idea, you must come up with a concept. Don't confuse the people," Imam said, quoting Megawati.

But he denied that Megawati was opposed to constitutional reform.

There is apprehension among the public about the possibility of a deadlock in the constitutional reform process. If legislators fail to reach a decision on the fourth phase of the amendment process this year, preparations for the 2004 general election would be disrupted.

Deliberation of three political bills in the House of Representatives has been delayed pending the endorsement of the fourth amendment to the 1945 Constitution. A deadlock in the amendment process will stall the passage of the political bills and slow the reform process.

As a consequence, the nation would have to wait for a more democratic political system, since a deadlock would mean a return to the 1945 Constitution, which is considered authoritarian.