Ghina Ghaliya, Jakarta – The House of Representatives has its eyes set on deliberating three problematic bills, namely the omnibus bill on job creation and revisions to the Criminal Code (KUHP) and 1995 Correctional Center Law, as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and despite persistent public protests against the bills.
House Deputy Speaker Azis Syamsuddin announced in a plenary session on Thursday that all House factions and commissions had agreed during a consultation meeting a day before to deliberate the three bills.
"Lawmakers have discussed and approved them in the plenary agenda," the Golkar Party politician said, adding that 31 lawmakers attended the meeting at the House compound, while 278 joined the meeting virtually.
Azis explained that the House's Legislation Body (Baleg) would handle deliberations for the omnibus bill while House Commission III overseeing legal affairs would discuss the KUHP and Correctional Center Law draft revisions.
Despite the approval to continue deliberations, some lawmakers expressed their objections, stating that the House and its executive partner should instead focus on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The House and the government should focus on the management of COVID-19. We should postpone the other agenda items. It's not right. People are facing a difficult situation due to the pandemic. Many of them are struggling to eat, but we, out of the blue, are discussing the omnibus bill and the other bills," Benny K. Harman of the Democratic Party said.
Another Dems lawmaker, Herman Khaeron, echoed Benny's sentiments. "We respect the other legislative agendas, but it's better for us to focus on COVID-19," he said.
House Speaker Puan Maharani, who attended the meeting virtually did not say anything related to the deliberation of the problematic bills.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) executive and daughter of the party's chairwoman and former president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, previously appeared reluctant to deliberate the omnibus bill on job creation. She had cited that the House should be careful in discussing it amid growing public objections against the bill.
Students, workers, activists and experts had taken to the streets to protest the government and House's plan to endorse it, claiming that it would harm the nation's democracy, environment and interests of workers. They had initially geared up for street rallies in March to protest the articles in the bill, which was cancelled due to restrictions on mass gatherings during the pandemic.
Critics have also slammed the legislative agenda, saying that lawmakers used the pandemic to diminish public participation in the deliberation of the problematic bills.
Activists and members of the public have also been persistent in protesting revisions to the KUHP and Correctional Center Law, deeming them as threats to democracy and civil rights.
In September 2019, tens of thousands of university students and citizens also took to the streets to oppose the deliberation of the two bills, which prompted the government and the House to postpone deliberations.
Activists from the National Alliance for the Reform of the KUHP said the government and the House should not use the pandemic as an opportunity to discuss the problematic bills.
The alliance noted that the final draft of the KUHP bill included many controversial articles that would over-criminalize people, including articles to restore a ban on insulting the President that had been repealed by the Constitutional Court. The draft also included stipulations on morality that criminalize, among other things, consensual sex between unmarried people, cohabitation and the promotion of contraception.
"If the government and the House still insist on doing this, it would actually worsen the COVID-19 pandemic. We called on the deliberations to be immediately postponed until the situation returns to normal," the activists said in a written statement on Thursday.
The National Welfare Movement (Gekanas) labor union called on the House to stop the deliberation of the omnibus bill, saying that it would hold a massive protest if the request was ignored.
"If they don't listen to our demands, we will hold a massive protest despite the pandemic," the group said
Charles Simabura, a researcher at Andalas University's Center for Constitutional Studies, called on President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to withdraw the presidential letter that gave a green light for the deliberations, saying that the government should focus its energy on COVID-19 and the wide impacts that it brought.
"If this continues, it is clear that the government and the House are using the pandemic as an opportunity to pass the problematic bills," he said.