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Parliament to resume debate on election

Agence France Presse - January 24, 1999

Jakarta – Indonesia's parliament is to reconvene Monday to finalize new bills that will set the ground rules for elections in June and for the country's post-Suharto political life.

The Suharto-era parliament is racing against a January 28 deadline to complete fine-tuning the government-proposed bills so the country can prepare for general elections promised for June 7.

They will cover political parties – and how many of the more than 100 new parties that have blossomed since Suharto's fall in May will be able to run in June – the conduct of the polls and the composition of a new upper and lower houses.

But since the debate first began in November 17, the members of the 500-seat House of Representatives have been involved in acrimonious debate over several core issues, including civil servants' role in politics.

Also hotly disputed is the number of unelected seats to be allocated to the armed forces, a main pillar of the 32-year-long Suharto regime, or whether they should sit in the house at all.

In a high-level meeting between the government and senior legislators Friday, the two sides agreed to drop the issue of civil servants from the agenda, and leave it to a government regulation to be issued at a later date, the Jakarta Post said Saturday.

However, Abu Hasan Sazili from the ruling Golkar party, who also chairs the House Special Committee responsible for deliberating the bills, said the final decision on whether or not to put the issue on ice could only be made at the open session of a special committee meeting scheduled for Monday. "The results of (Friday's) meeting will first be forwarded to faction leaders and members," Sazili was quoted by the Post as saying.

Friday's three-hour meeting, dubbed "high-level (government) lobbying" by the press here, was attended by armed forces chief General Wiranto, Home Affairs Minister Syarwan Hamid, United Development Party (PPP) chairman Hamzah Haz and Golkar House faction leader Andi Mattalatta.

Golkar has been stubbornly rejecting a government suggestion that civil servants be allowed to run for election if they resign their government posts when elected, saying that barring them from joining political parties would violate their civil rights.

The minority Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) had earlier argued against the suggestion but later shifted to backing the proposed bill. The PPP argues the army should return to the barracks and quit politics.

During Suharto's rule the ruling Golkar party received its main support from the block vote of bureaucracy and the military and their families, who helped it gain a landlside victory in every election.

Ryaas Rasyid, who chairs the government team that drafted the political bills, was quoted by the Post as saying the planned government regulation would stipulate if a civil servant wanted to join a political party, he or she "must take leave without state stipend or resign."

If followed, it would knock scores of ministers, including Golkar head and concurrently state secretary Akbar Tanjung, out of their government posts. Golkar deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman called the conditions unacceptable.

"We don't want that," Darusman said, adding the clause on "leave without the state stipend" required further clarification as a current government regulation says a civil servant with five years service can take up to four years unpaid leave for "important and urgent personal reasons".

Darusman argued that civil servants must not lose their "political rights" although Golkar agreed a neutral bureaucracy was vital for a free and fair election. A current law states that civil servants can hold membership or executive positions with political parties with the permission of their superiors.

On the military representation issue the government has reducing the seat allotment to 55 from the current 75 in a 550 seat house. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, chief of the armed forces territorial affairs bureau said earlier the military would accept whatever decision the House made.