Jakarta – Indonesian students and political parties formed since the fall of former president Suharto, have condemned an agreement to allow the military to keep 38 seats in parliament, reports said Thursday.
"That number is still too much, even more so because they are put there by appointment and not through an election. This is a clear setback for the people's aspirations," said Matori Abdul Jalil of the People's Awakening Party (PKB), according to the Bisnis Indonesia daily.
Under pressure to end months of lobbying and negotiations on political bills by Thursday, MPs agreed Wednesday to give the military 38 seats in a decision that cleared the last roadblock to general elections in June.
The allotment was half the seats the armed forces had held under Suharto. Armed forces chief General Wiranto labelled the reduction in military MPs as "radical," but added that the armed forces (ABRI) "will accept the decision."
But the secretary of the People's Mandate Party (PAN), Faisal Basri "deplored" the number. "General Wiranto should count. The ABRI MPs at the national, provincial and district legislatures numbers in the thousands, while ABRI's own forces only number 500,000 men," Basri was quoted by Bisnis as saying. PAN and PKB are two of the largest new parties formed since Suharto resigned last May.
"To build a democratic society, ABRI should not play politics but should only assure security," the Kompas daily quoted Eli Salomo, an activist of the City Forum student groups, as saying. The forum has been active in reform protests.
Salomo said his group was disappointed at the agreement on military seats in the House of Representatives, but highlighted how the MPs who made the accord were the product of the old Suharto regime.
The chairman of the Indonesian Moslem Students Unified Front, Fitra Asril, said the military should not be in the house as democratic reforms could only start when the military were no longer involved in politics. Asril was quoted by Kompas as saying the 38 military seats showed the military reform drive was only "rhetoric." He called for the armed forces to provide a clear schedule for its withdrawal from politics.
Irwan, an activist of the Jakarta Forum of Communication for Student Senates, said the 38 seats showed "ABRI's arrogance", Kompas said. The military allotment was much bigger than the number of seats any single party could hope to obtain in the next elections on June 7, he added.
A group of some 100 students on Wednesday already protested under heavy rain in front of parliament complex against the number of military MPs.
The issue of the military presence in the legislature had been one of the main stumbling blocks to the passage of a package of political bills that will allow the first elections since Suharto stepped down to proceed.
Home Minister Syarwan Hamid, an army lieutenant general, said the military will reduce its seats in the future, and added that when they reach 16 seats "they will have no influence and it would be better if ABRI is no longer in the legislature in the future."