Wed, 29 Mar 2000

Unitary system with federal elements urged

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia should retain the unitary system of government but may incorporate elements of federalism to take into account the diverse history, values and geographic factors of the regions, observers said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a seminar on "A Unitary State Versus a Federal State", constitutional law professor Harun Alrasid and political scientist Ramlan Surbakti said that for all the talks about federalism, Indonesia would not likely abandon the unitary system of government any time soon.

"I believe that the unitary state will be maintained by the government at all costs," Harun of the University of Indonesia, said.

After a thorough discussion on the subject, the national consensus remained to preserve the present system which was also the one adopted by Indonesia's founding fathers, he said.

Indonesia's state motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) and the second point in state ideology Pancasila (five principles), national unity, underpinned the unitary system of government, he argued.

"Indonesia had an unhappy experience with a federal system (in the late 1940s) and this has tarnished the people's image of that in particular," he said during the seminar organized by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the National Democratic Institute and the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

Recent demands for a federal system of government emerging in South Sulawesi and Riau were only transitory in nature, and should recede with time, Harun said.

The demands simply reflected regional discontents at injustices and the unfair distribution of power and economic resources between the central and regional governments, he said.

Harun suggested that Indonesia incorporate some features of federalism into the present unitary system of government, such as introducing a senate for regional representatives which has power equal to the House of Representatives in endorsing a law.

"We could set up such a regional representatives council. The People's Consultative Assembly would then consist of the House and the council," he said.

Ramlan Surbakti supported Harun's bicameral proposal, saying that through the senate, the regions would enjoy a greater voice than they did now.

"The formation of a senate, whose members are elected to represent the provinces, will guarantee that the regions would be involved in national decision making processes, from drafting legislation to the government budget," he said.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, who opened the seminar, said that while maintaining the unitary system, Indonesia could apply some elements of federalism.

"Since the 1945 Constitution mentions the unitary system of government, we will have to stick by it. But we could adopt the federalism attitude," he said.

The government is currently preparing to implement the law on regional autonomy which was enacted last year. The law calls on the devolution of power from the central administration to the second level of administration at regency/mayoralty level.

The government hopes that the autonomy law will go a long way in placating the demands for more autonomy or even separatism in the regions. (jun)