Indonesia inaugurates new Parliament amid tight security

Indonesian lawmakers were sworn in yesterday at the heavily barricaded Parliament building in Jakarta. The ceremony was witnessed by President Joko Widodo and other top officials. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Indonesian lawmakers were sworn in yesterday at the heavily barricaded Parliament building in Jakarta. The ceremony was witnessed by President Joko Widodo and other top officials. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ongoing student protests over the passing of a controversial anti-graft Bill have claimed 2 lives

Indonesia yesterday swore in 575 new members of the House of Representatives (DPR) for the next five years, amid tight security after days of sometimes violent student protests.

On Monday night in Jakarta, police clashed with students, who have been demonstrating for days over the passing of the controversial anti-graft (amendment) Bill, seen as a move to weaken the fight against corruption in the country.

Yesterday's ceremony was witnessed by President Joko Widodo, Vice-President-elect Ma'ruf Amin and outgoing Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

In the evening, MPs elected Puan Maharani, the daughter of ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle's (PDI-P's) chairman Megawati Soekarnoputri, as DPR Speaker.

Mr Joko's ruling coalition is a major force in the DPR, controlling nearly 61 per cent of the seats, up from only 37 per cent when he started his first term in 2014.

A few political parties later jumped ship, eventually giving Mr Joko a majority in Parliament.

Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the winner of the April legislative election, is the largest party in the just-sworn-in Parliament, with 128 seats, followed by Golkar and main opposition party Gerindra, which garnered 85 and 78 seats respectively.

More than 55 per cent of the new House members are incumbents, raising doubts that there would be much improvement on the slow speed of new laws being passed by Parliament.

In the past five years, Parliament ratified 91 Bills into law, far below the targeted 189 they had planned to pass.

Bills could come from within Parliament as well as those proposed by the government.

Critics have said that Parliament has at times given wrong priorities to the laws they passed.

The government's proposed revisions for the anti-terror Bill passed into law only in May last year, after several years of delay. The process picked up speed only after militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group staged an attack in Jakarta in January 2016.

The new law gives police the power to take pre-emptive measures to prevent terrorist attacks, as well as allow the TNI, the Indonesian military, to join the police in counter-terrorism efforts.

On the other hand, in the final month of Parliament's 2014-2019 term, the passing of an amendment to the anti-corruption Bill - widely criticised by rights groups as weakening the powers of the anti-corruption agency KPK - was seen as being rushed through.

The amendment regulates previously sweeping powers of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to wiretap public officials suspected of wrongdoing.

Using wiretaps, the KPK had made numerous arrests of rogue senior officials and MPs who were caught red-handed taking bribes.

 
 

The passing of this amendment on Sept 17 was among the key reasons for the violent student protests in cities across Indonesia that began last week.

Two students were killed in Sulawesi in clashes with the police. The students had also protested against a planned ratification of the contentious Criminal Code amendment Bill that Parliament finally postponed.

Also sworn in yesterday was the Upper-House elected Regional Representative Council (DPD), consisting of 136 non-partisan representatives from 34 provinces.

Together with the DPR, they form the People's Consultative Assembly, or the MPR.

The Lower House DPR has the most legislative power, including making new laws and approving government-proposed annual budget, while the DPD focuses mainly on affairs related to the relationship between the national government and regional governments, including provinces, regencies and cities.

Indonesia's 34 provinces are made up of more than 500 regencies and cities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesia inaugurates new Parliament amid tight security'. Print Edition | Subscribe