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Committee to keep old proportional system

Jakarta Post - November 29, 1998

Jakarta – A special committee of the House of Representatives agreed on Thursday to retain the old proportional representation (PR) system for next year's general election, but with major improvements to make it more democratic.

The government backed down on its original proposal for a district system in which people would vote for candidates rather than parties, after the three political parties currently represented in the House called for a retention of the PR system.

"The proper spirit is to fix the shortcomings of the past," Minister of Home Affairs Syarwan Hamid said during a deliberation of the government-drafted bill on elections with the special committee set up to consider this vital matter. Whatever system was adopted, it would have to be better than the past one Syarwan said.

On Monday, Golkar, the United Development Party (PPP) and the government-supported Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) were all united in demanding the retention of the PR system, stressing that there was not enough time to adopt a new system given that the election should be held in June. The Armed Forces (ABRI) faction, which is guaranteed some seats in the House without having to contest the election, is indifferent on the issue.

There was no immediate reaction to the decision from the new political parties which are not represented in the House. Their views are nevertheless important given that they will also be contesting the election for the first time next year.

The past system restricted the election to the three parties and was designed to give maximum advantage to Golkar which won all six elections held under former president Soeharto.

Syarwan underlined some of the things that the nation would miss out on by not adopting the district system. Legislators elected through a district system would be more accountable to their constituents than if they were elected through a PR system, he said. Election campaigning under the district system would be much more peaceful and localized. Under the PR system, the tendency was for parties to organize massive rallies, he said. He pointed out that given the current fragile political situation, there was a danger that such rallies might lead to unrest.

The four factions in the 87-strong special committee shared the government's security concerns and stressed that these should be addressed in the new election law.

Ryaas Rasyid, who heads the government team which drafted the bill, told the meeting that a government regulation on election campaigns would have to be drafted separately from the bill. "Basically, we agree that future elected legislators will be accountable to the people, " Ryaas said.

The special committee on Thursday also debated how the election should be administered and supervised. The Golkar, PPP and ABRI factions objected to the government proposal to include public figures in the national and local election committees.

They said a People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) decree on general election specified that the election committees consist of representatives of the government and the political parties. The inclusion of public figures, such as scholars or religious leaders like Dili Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, would strengthen the credibility of the committees Ryaas said. The government would not insist on their inclusion but the factions would be wise to heed the warning, he said. "If the people later find faults with the election law they would blame the political parties, and not the government," he added. PDI legislator Wiyanjono also warned of the possibility of political parties boycotting the elections.

The special committee endorsed the government's proposal for a single general election supervisory body, which should be independent and established by the Supreme Court.

The factions and the government agreed on allowing the public as well as foreigners to actively monitor the general election. They said foreign observers must first notify the government of their intention. The session was adjourned to Thursday.