Tue, 08 Aug 2000

What's wrong with the reform process?

What should we expect from the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR)? Political analyst J. Soedjati Djiwandono shares his views.

JAKARTA (JP): At the end of the Yogyakarta meeting on Aug. 1, the President stated that he and the other national leaders at the gathering had agreed that the August meeting would just be an Annual Session of the MPR, without attempts to unseat him.

Yet, many politicians seem to continue their ambivalence on the question. While conceding the nature and primary function of the MPR Annual Session, they have continued to keep the option open by adding, "if ... etc." to their statements.

Constitutionally, being the supreme governing body of the Indonesian political system, fully exercising the sovereignty of the people, if the MPR should not be happy with the President's "progress report" at the August meeting, the House of Representatives (DPR) could agree on a memorandum requesting the MPR to convene a special session, in which the President may be forced out of office.

Indeed, the nation is paying the price for a lack of direction in the current process of reform. The politicians continue to talk glibly about reform seemingly without a clear idea of what reform really means, why we need reform, and what to do about it.

Blaming Soeharto for everything that has gone wrong, MPR members seem obsessed with weakening the presidency and at the same time empowering the legislative bodies, i.e. their own positions, as the top priority of reform. They fail to understand that the 1945 Constitution provides for the very system that has created the likes of Soeharto, Dr. Jekyll-turned-Mr. Hyde, the main root of the nation's current crisis.

Thus many politicians now appear intent on pushing the President into a corner, really after him for the kill, as it were. It is unfair, however, to put all the blame on the President for a lack of success in dealing with all the urgent problems faced by the nation within less than a year.

Karl Marx thought that socialism or "the classless society" that he dreamed of would be built upon the ruins of capitalism. But President Abdurrahman Wahid has to build a new Indonesia not upon, but through the use of much of the debris of Soeharto's New Order. These are intellectual and political midgets of his creation through indoctrination, manipulation, intimidation, terror, by stick and carrot and by Pavlovian conditioning, who continue to speak his language and double-talk and follow his way of thinking.

Given the limited success in weakening the presidency and in empowering themselves in the legislative bodies, what is there in the political system to control them? At present the politicians seem absolutely free to say or do anything and get away with it.

It is nonsense to call this kind of relationship between the President and the DPR or MPR one of checks and balances.

In a parliamentary system, the parliament is able to topple the prime minister by a vote of no confidence. But the prime minister may challenge the parliament by dissolving it and calling for a fresh election to test the confidence of the people.

That does not apply to the presidential system in Indonesia, especially in the absence of a mechanism for judicial review in the event of legal or constitutional debate between the executive and the legislative branches of government.

At best the result would be a deadlock, with the President getting the upper hand in the face of the DPR. That is what happened on July 20 last, when he confronted the DPR on the right of interpellation. In the face of the MPR, however, particularly given the possible attempts at impeachment following its current Annual Session, the position would be the opposite.

Indeed, President Sukarno was impeached successfully by the provisional MPR at the request of the equally provisional and equally unelected DPR, which from the onset of the New Order had both been manipulated through the revamping of their membership at Soeharto's will. By contrast, now MPR consists mostly of democratically elected party members, among which supporters of Abdurrahman command a large majority.

Still, the situation will not be that simple this time around. For one thing, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Golkar, like the previous case of the United Development Party, are dissatisfied with the dismissal of their members from the Cabinet for reasons the party could not accept.

This prompted the recent interpellation by the House -- an indication that many politicians are more concerned with their own personal and sectarian interests than the interests of the nation. The question of their own survival seems paramount.

Thus, for another, the possibility of money politics playing a role remains real. They probably could not care less if a change of government at this stage would be too costly for the nation, and that impeachment of the President is likely to trigger a serious social conflict, if not a civil war.

It seems unlikely, therefore, that the President would confront an MPR special session by resorting again to virtual pettifoggery by questioning the constitutionality of attempts at impeachment, arguing that the current Annual Session is not one in which he is to give his accountability report. He is to do that at the end of his term. He may well use that argument, but before rather during the session, which I doubt, on the basis of that very argument, whether he would feel bound to attend at all.

The nation is also paying the price for upholding the 1945 Constitution. Members of the MPR have appeared to make serious efforts at amending, but not changing, the Constitution. Even that is limited to certain, not necessarily the right, clauses. But not the preamble! That would be a cardinal sin! And not the unitary republic. That would be unforgivable!

The 1945 Constitution is one of ambivalence and ambiguity, subject to conflicting interpretations, right from the preamble. This has resulted in contradictory laws or laws contrary to the Constitution. At the very least, it may result in endless legal and constitutional wrangling with no institution vested with the power for judicial review, not even the Supreme Court.

Without a complete change of the Constitution, on the pretext that "the people are not ready", that they do not want to "betray our founding fathers", or some other senseless argument, we are likely to get another form of dictatorship -- whoever may happen to be president.