Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Unresolved issues in electoral bill to be voted on

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With only four days remaining to resolve 21 contentious articles in the electoral bill, all nine factions in the House of Representatives have agreed to vote on the articles if they are still deadlocked when they meet for the final time on Tuesday.

A number of legislators involved in the deliberation of the bill expressed doubt that they would be able to arrive at a consensus over the articles by Tuesday.

"A series of discussions between the leaders of political parties and House factions have shown that they won't hesitate about voting (on the articles)," said legislator Ali Masykur Musa of the National Awakening Party at a press briefing here on Thursday.

Ali, a member of the House special committee deliberating the electoral bill, said the unresolved articles were related to the electoral system.

The bill was to have been endorsed on Jan. 30 but was delayed until Feb. 11, and delayed once more because of the numerous unresolved issues.

The leaders of the General Elections Commission again warned on Monday that further delays in the endorsement of the bill would jeopardize preparations for the 2004 general election.

Zaenal Arifin, a House special committee member from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), said his party's intention to maintain its power to determine which politicians would be seated in the House had sparked ongoing arguments among other factions.

The stance of the PDI Perjuangan, chaired by President Megawati Soekarnoputri, to maintain control over its representatives in the House contradicts its approval of the electoral system to be used in the 2004 elections.

The House factions have agreed to adopt a combination of a proportional system and an open-list of candidates for the elections. This system will enable voters to choose their legislative candidates directly, replacing the old system under which voters only were able to cast their ballots for political parties.

The new system suggests the executive boards of parties can no longer determine which politicians will fill the House seats.

Apart from the electoral system, the factions are still debating a number of other issues, including the number of seats in the House.

All of the factions have agreed to increase the number of seats in the House from the current 500, but they remain split on the final number. There are currently three choices being floated: 525, 550 and 600.

The number of House seats must be increased because more provinces have been established in the country.

Although the committee deliberating the electoral bill pledged to endorse the bill on Feb. 18, this deadline has not been approved by the House's steering committee, prompting doubt among the public over how serious the House is about endorsing the bill.

Of the 76 steering committee members, only 19 showed up for Thursday's meeting, during which the date was to be set for the plenary session to seek the House's approval of the electoral bill.

Deputy House Speaker Tosari Widjaja said, however, that the schedule for the bill's endorsement could be set during a House leadership meeting in the next few days.

Separately, a caucus of women politicians has criticized the course of the bill's deliberation, saying the debate over the electoral system had distracted people's attention from gender inequalities in politics.

Ignoring women leadership in politics was tantamount to neglecting potential solutions to the problems faced by women and children, the group said during a media conference.

The press briefing was attended by legislators Ida Fauziyah of PKB and Marwah Daud Ibrahim of the Golkar Party.

They want the committee deliberating the electoral bill to approve an article reserving 30 percent of House seats for women.

Currently, women legislators account for less than 10 percent of the House.