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Calls to end direct presidential polls in Indonesia grow louder

Straits Times - November 1, 2019

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Jakarta – A move to have Indonesia revert back to the 1945 Constitution, which would end the current practice of people directly electing a president, appears to be growing in momentum with the top four political parties in the legislative election held earlier this year voicing support for amendments which would shift the centre of power back to Parliament.

A senior leader of political party Nasdem told The Straits Times the current system – in place over the last four presidential elections – had caused wide divisions among Indonesians, and resulted in lavish spending during the long election campaigns.

Indonesia's Parliament consists of 10 political parties, with Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar, Gerindra and Nasdem enjoying the largest share of support among voters.

Amendments to the Constitution would see the job of choosing a president fall on the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the Upper and Lower House of the legislative arm of government.

It would have control over the president, including the power to impeach him, and would be able to dictate policy guidelines.

"If there is anything that is in line with the changing situation and condition, and would bring about change for a better future... why not?" Nasdem chairman Surya Paloh said in Jakarta on Thursday, referring to the divisions in society over the last two elections.

The media mogul, who owns Indonesia's first 24-hour news channel MetroTV, added that he does not oppose the move to revert back to the 1945 Constitution, if all factions in Parliament are in support, and if it represents the people's aspiration.

Nasdem saw the biggest percentage point gain in total vote tallies in the 2019 elections, compared to the other parties.

It took 9 per cent of the votes, up from 6.7 per cent in the 2014 elections. The ruling PDI-P had 19 per cent of the votes, the same as five years ago.

PDI-P chairman Megawati Soekarnoputri had in August this year obtained a commitment at the party's five-yearly congress for efforts to reinstate the system where the nation's president would answer to the MPR.

That same month, MPR speaker Bambang Soesatyo, a senior cadre member with Golkar, said in Parliament that the MPR should regain its power to elect the nation's president. He repeated the call earlier this month, saying it is not taboo to amend the Constitution.

The 1945 Constitution has been amended four times since the fall of President Suharto in May 1998.

Among the main changes are the introduction of a direct presidential election, and a limit on the five-year terms of the president and vice-president, who can serve only a maximum two terms.

Around 80 per cent of MPs in Parliament are loyal to their respective political party leaders and follow the directives they issue. The rest comprise non-partisan prominent public figures who represent the country's 34 provinces.

Mr Bambang said having a direct presidential election, as has been the practice in the previous four elections, has brought about more disadvantages than benefits and puts national unity at stake.

Indonesia had bitter and divisive elections in 2014 and this year, with only two contenders both times – current President Joko Widodo, who retained his seat, and former army-general Prabowo Subianto.

Mr Prabowo had in August also announced his support for a return to the old system.

Ms Irma Suryani Chaniago, who sits on the Nasdem central leadership board, said direct presidential elections caused divisions among Indonesians that are so wide, calls to amend the 1945 Constitution are growing louder.

"Direct presidential elections have also triggered lavish spending, where the camps supporting their respective candidate set up various volunteer groups, which then spent huge funds to hold gatherings, buy excessive food, erect thousands of banners," Ms Irma told The Straits Times.

Observers have, however, said it would be a setback for the progress of democracy in Indonesia if the country returns to the old system, calling instead for improvements to the current system.

Under the 1945 Constitution – introduced the year Indonesia became independent – an elected government relied on a system known locally as GBHN, an acronym for a policy framework to map out long-term development plans.

Observers said GBHN would run counter to the current system, in which presidential candidates make campaign promises that they then try to deliver. Reinstating the GBHN would amount to scrapping direct presidential elections, they added.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/calls-to-end-direct-presidential-polls-in-indonesia-grow-louder