Indonesia inaugurates new Parliament amid tight security following street protests

Protesters gesture as they clash with police during a riot following protests near the Indonesian Parliament building in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept 30, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia officially sworn in 575 new members of the House of Representatives (DPR) for the next five years on Tuesday (Oct 1), amid tight security after days of sometimes violent protests.

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

Tuesday's ceremony was witnessed by incumbent 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.

After being sworn-in, Ms Puan pledged that Parliament would be open to input from the people and it will listen to their growing aspirations.

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.

In later years, several political parties joined his coalition, eventually giving Mr Joko a majority backing of the Parliament.

Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the winner of the April's 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 there would be much improvement to 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 proposed by the government. Critics have said that Parliament has at times gave wrong priorities to the laws they passed.

The government's proposed revisions for the anti-terror Bill passed into law in May last year, after several years of delay. The process only picked up speed after militants loyal to terror group ISIS staged an attack in downtown 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 powers of the anti-corruption agency KPK - was rushed. The amendment regulates previously sweeping powers of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to wiretap phone conversations.

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 law on Sept 17 were among key reasons for the deadly undergraduate 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 to ease the pressures from violent street rallies.

Besides the lower-house DPR, the upper-house - made up of 136 non-partisan, elected Regional Representative Council (DPD) from 34 provinces - were also sworn in on Tuesday.

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

DPR has the most legislative power, including making new laws and approving government-proposed annual budget, while DPD mainly focuses 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.

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