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Committee agrees to 38 military appointees

Agence France Presse - January 27, 1999

Jakarta – Indonesian MPs on Wednesday cleared a major hurdle blocking passage of political bills ahead of June elections, agreeing to give the military 38 seats in parliament, half the number they held under the former government of Suharto.

"The PPP (the Moslem United Development Party) finally followed the decision on the number of ABRI in the House of Representative, that is 38 people," said H.M. Jufri A.S. the representative of the PPP chairman at a special committee preparing the bills.

The PPP had previously sought to slash the number of appointed ABRI (military) seats at the House of Representative, the lower house, from the current 75 to 15.

But it has faced strong opposition from the military faction which has been adamant on keeping a minimum of 38 seats in the new 500 seat house, or half the current 75. Similar reductions will take place at provincial and district level legislatures, with the army retaining up to 10 percent of the local seats there.

Armed Forces Chief General Wiranto labelled the reduction in military MPs as "radical," but added that "ABRI will accept the decision."

The issue of the military presence at the legislature has been one of the main stumbling blocks to the passage of a package of political bills that will allow the first elections since former president Suharto stepped down in May, to proceed.

The last hurdle was surmounted later on Wednesday when the committee's chairman Abu Hasan Sazili announced that members had reached a compromise agreement – an election system based on a combination of results at provincial and district levels.

Under the agreed system the list of party candidates both at provincial and district levels have to be endorsed in writing by the political chapters at district levels. In the past the candidates were determined from Jakarta, often involving candidates unknown in their assigned constituency.

The seats for each party will be determined by the number of votes reaped at the provincial level, but the candidates to become MPS would be determined from the votes at district level.

The agreements had still to be officialized by the committee later on Wednesday and brought for the approval of a plenary session of parliament on Thursday. Legislators have been racing against time to finish debates on the bills by Thursday, to allow ample time to prepare for the elections.

Another major obstacle, the neutrality of the civil servant corps, was removed when President B.J. Habibie on Tuesday signed a government ruling on the issue. The ruling number five, governed public servants who become members of political parties, Coordinating Minister for Development Supervision Hartarto Sastrosunarto told journalists Wednesday.

"So that civil servants can be neutral and impartial towards all political parties and are not involved in practical politics, civil servants that become a member or an executive of a political party should be dismissed from their government posts," Hartarto said.

The ruling said civil servants should not only be neutral but also avoid the use of state facilities for any particular group and should not discriminate in providing services to the public.

During Suharto's 32-year rule, the block votes of the military and civil servants and their families helped the ruling Golkar party to sweep every election.

Under the regulations, civil servants wanting to become or stay as members or executives of political parties were given three months to retire from their current government postings. Dishonorable discharge was the penalty for violators.