Indonesia's political system rules out 'absolute power'

President Joko Widodo has dismissed criticism by the opposition including his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that a new election law and a decree banning radical mass organisations would lead to "unchecked power", saying that Indonesia's political system rules out "absolute power".

"I need to state that there is no such thing as absolute power. We have the press, the media, non-governmental organisations, and those who carry out a supervisory role, the Parliament. The people can also carry out a direct supervisory role," Mr Joko told reporters during a visit to an industrial park in West Java province last Friday.

Any party can go through a process in Parliament if they do not agree with any law or regulation, Mr Joko added, stressing that there is an open channel to file any appeal or objection.

His remarks followed Dr Yudhoyono's strong words against the election Bill, which was passed in Parliament last week with the support of Mr Joko's ruling coalition.

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The Bill preserves the requirement that parties will need to have at least 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament, or a minimum 25 per cent share of the popular vote, before they can nominate a presidential candidate. Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party and the main opposition Gerindra party want these thresholds scrapped because they believe it would narrow the field for the 2019 race, and may give Mr Joko an unfair advantage.

Mr Joko, who had no prior ties to the old political or military elite, became President in 2014 under the same system and the status quo would favour his run for office again, political observers have said.

LEVELS OF CHECKS

I need to state that there is no such thing as absolute power. We have the press... and those who carry out a supervisory role, the Parliament. The people can also carry out a direct supervisory role.

INDONESIAN PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO, on criticism that a new election law and a decree banning radical mass organisations would lead to "unchecked power".

"Power must not go unchecked. That means we have to make sure those that have power do not go beyond the limits, so they do not go into an abuse of power territory," Dr Yudhoyono has said. "This nation has learnt many lessons that when there was an abuse of power, the people used their rights to correct the government."

Gerindra's Prabowo Subianto echoed Dr Yudhoyono's accusation, calling the recently ratified election law a joke.

The two men agreed last Thursday their parties would cooperate.

Dr Yudhoyono has also criticised Mr Joko's latest perppu, an emergency edict that allows the government to disband radical organisations. The government has banned Hizbut Tahrir, citing the Islamist group's support for a Muslim caliphate and other activities that deviate from Indonesia's state principles, known as Pancasila.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia's political system rules out 'absolute power''. Print Edition | Subscribe