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New House, new hope?

Straits Times - October 2, 2019

Jakarta – Many of the newly sworn-in 575 House of Representatives and 136 Regional Representatives Council members might feel relieved as they can finally begin their terms on Tuesday, thanks to maximum security measures taken in the wake of demonstrations just outside their workplace.

But why should such a historic moment become tense? It should have been a celebration for the nation, which on April 17 entrusted them with carrying out the people's mandate.

The House should have thrown a party to allow the people to congratulate their elected representatives and wish them luck.

Yet the police cordoned off all access to the House complex in Senayan, Central Jakarta, as protesters planned another mass rally.

But is it not the political elite who have built a wall separating them from their constituents and people at large in the first place?

The strict security measures only confirm the existing gap between the elite and the masses, or masters and servants if you believe in class struggle.

The "Berlin Wall" arises when politicians breach the promises that made people vote for them.

Spearheaded by students, the series of protests in Jakarta and many other cities across the country over the past week spoke volumes of such betrayal, which has prominently been represented in the hashtag #ReformasiDikorupsi (reform has been corrupted).

Despite attempts to distort the raison d'etre of the protests, the freshly inaugurated lawmakers have no choice but to commit themselves to the 1998 reform movement that envisioned a democratic, human rights-respecting and corruption-free society.

Many have cast doubt in particular over the new House because half of them are the incumbents, who in less than one month before the end of their tenure pushed for the passage of a number of bills that clearly go against the aims of the reform movement.

Their first and primary challenge now is to listen to the rallying cry of the students rather than toe their respective party lines, which perhaps is second to impossible.

The new composition of the House looks set to change much with the shifting of the main opposition Gerindra Party, which finished third in the April election, and the Democratic Party, to the ruling coalition.

For the government of Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Ma'ruf Amin, who will assume office on Oct 20, the strong support from the legislative power may ensure stability, at the expense of democracy.

Not only was the checks and balances mechanism ineffective during the just-ended term of the House, the fact that thousands have taken to the streets singing "Mosi Tidak Percaya" (Vote of no confidence), reflects how the supposedly representative democracy has failed the people.

We have heard that the 2024 election is the common agenda behind the reconciliation of the ruling and opposition parties.

The recent election of the Supreme Audit Agency members and the leadership composition of the House commissions and its auxiliary bodies, to be unveiled soon, show how the strategic coalition serves the elite's interest.

Under such circumstances, questions about whether the new House will bring new hope invite bleak answers.

– The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/new-house-new-hope-jakarta-post