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Jokowi's shrinking opposition: Smoothening the path to constitutional amendments

Fulcrum - October 6, 2021

Made Supriatma – PAN's entry into Jokowi's ruling coalition has cemented the President's strong grip over Indonesia's legislative assemblies and could make passing constitutional amendments even easier.

In late August, the chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN) Zulkifli Hasan and its secretary-general Eddy Soeparno attended a meeting at the state palace between President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and political party leaders supporting the Jokowi administration. The meeting was the first for PAN and marked the start of PAN joining the government coalition. Minister of Information Technology and secretary general of the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) Johny G. Plate hailed PAN as a 'coalition friend.'

PAN's decision to join the government was predictable for two reasons. First, it is challenging for political parties in Indonesia to survive without occupying positions in the government. A portfolio in the government would allow the party to tap resources to prepare for elections. With PAN's entry into the coalition, a cabinet reshuffle is likely to take place soon – as Jokowi is expected to reward PAN with a cabinet post. It is assessed that PAN could be given one of three positions – viz., the post of Minister for Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform (MenPAN-RB); the Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture; or the Transport Ministry.

Second, PAN has experienced deep divisions since the party's last congress in November 2020. The party has been split over the bitter contestation for the party chairmanship. At the Congress, Zulkifli Hasan was re-elected as chairman and defeated Mulfachri Harahap who was supported by Amien Rais, one of the founders of PAN. The conflict intensified after the Congress and ended with Amien Rais declaring his decision to leave the party and establish a new party, the Ummat Party. The schism has potentially serious consequences for PAN because some PAN voters will likely join the Ummat Party. In order to lure them back, Zulkifli Hasan's PAN needed to get access to more resources and one way to do that was to join the government's coalition.

For Jokowi, PAN's entry into the government coalition has further boosted his already dominant position in Parliament, as well as the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). Prior to PAN joining the government coalition, the coalition already held an absolute majority of 74.26 per cent or 427 seats out of the 575-seat DPR. With PAN's additional 44 DPR seats, the government coalition now controls 471 seats (81.92 per cent). Conversely, the remaining parties not in Jokowi's coalition – i.e., the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Democrat Party – now control only 104 seats, or 18.08 per cent of DPR seats.

We do not know precisely what Jokowi's intention is. But we do know that now the President has the votes if he wants to amend the Constitution, including to extend his term or pursue a third term in office.

A question may be asked as to why President Jokowi agreed to the inclusion of PAN into his coalition. His comfortable majority in the DPR even prior to PAN's inclusion had already enabled Jokowi to carry out his agenda virtually without any obstacles. He passed the Job Creation Act, i.e., the Omnibus Law, without any obstacles. He also did not face any resistance in submitting a budget to parliament. His latest law, namely the revision of the special autonomy law in Papua, was ratified by acclamation.

Some politicians and pundits have speculated that the withdrawal of PAN from the opposition camp would pave the way for Jokowi to push through any further amendments to the Indonesian Constitution.

Constitutional amendments can be proposed by a third of MPR members. However, it must be approved by two-thirds of the MPR members to become the law of the land. Currently, the MPR has 711 members and it requires 474 members to approve any constitutional amendment. With PAN's addition of 44 votes, President Jokowi can now ostensibly count on 471 votes from his coalition. He only needs the support of three additional MPR members to push through amendments. The three members can be sought from the DPD (Regional Representative Council) and, theoretically, would not be too difficult to get.

President Jokowi and party leaders in his coalition have denied that they have an ulterior motive in amending the Constitution. MPR chairman Bambang Soesetyo claimed the amendment will be limited to the necessity to formulate Principles of State Policies (PPHN). With PPHN, he argued, strategic state policies, such as moving the state capital, would be guaranteed continuity by the next government.

Not everyone is convinced that the amendments will be limited to formulating PPHN. A Jakarta think tank stated that there were three possible options in the deliberations over constitutional amendments. The first option was to limit discussions to formulating the PPHN. The second option was to introduce an extension of the president's term. And finally, the third option was to introduce both motions. PDI-P and Gerindra, the two biggest political parties in Jokowi's coalition, along with PKB and PPP support the idea of introducing the PPHN. Golkar elites who are close to the president, as well as some parties in the coalition, are supportive of Jokowi extending his term in office. But most parties, because of the high stakes of the issue, remain against the extension of the presidential term.

We do not know precisely what Jokowi's intention is. But we do know that now the President has the votes if he wants to amend the Constitution, including to extend his term or pursue a third term in office.

Source: https://fulcrum.sg/jokowis-shrinking-opposition-smoothening-the-path-to-constitutional-amendments