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Military tipped to get 40 House seats

Indonesian Observer - January 13, 1999

Jakarta – The Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI), currently experiencing its lowest level of popularity, is likely to get up to 40 seats in the House of Representatives, according to the latest deliberations of new political bills.

The House factions are still debating the number of seats to be granted to military personnel, but most legislators are apparently willing to maintain ABRI's strong presence in parliament.

Leaders of all four factions have agreed the military could be given between 35 and 40 seats, despite mounting protests against ABRI's political role, private television network SCTV reported last night. The ABRI faction said it would accept how ever many seats it is allocated by the House, adding the most important thing is for the military to play a significant role in parliament.

ABRI officials denied the allocation of between 35 and 40 seats is an effort to preserve its powerful influence in the House. They also denied that ABRI would function to keep the ruling Golkar party in power when the nation goes to the polls in June.

ABRI argued that giving 40 seats to the military would enable it to be present in each of the new House subcommissions. Parliament has agreed to form 40 subcommissions, in which each House faction must have at least one representative. Political analysts say the establishment of the subcommissions was nothing but a sly effort to ensure that ABRI got at least 40 seats in the House.

Budi Harsono, chairman of the House's working committee, said giving ABRI "about 40 seats" reflects the aspirations of all members of the committee, considering military's significant political role. "However, the number could be reduced based on future agreements ... and the decision is not yet final," he said. Under the new political bills, ABRI could be granted at least 55 seats in the House, with its representatives to be appointed by President B.J. Habibie.

Many opposition politicians and students have voiced strong opposition to the military's political role in the House. Critics say ABRI should abandon its dual function, because the military merely serves the corrupt interests of the wealthy elite.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN), among the favorites for the June election, say ABRI must terminate its political role within six years. Students say they will resume protests against the military at the end of this month, and won't stop demonstrating until ABRI goes back to the barracks.