Indonesian elite seek end to direct presidential polls

President Joko Widodo, seen here delivering a speech in Parliament on Aug 16, was one of only two contenders in the bitterly fought elections in 2014 and this year. Indonesia's restrictive election law has been blamed for the low number of candidates
President Joko Widodo, seen here delivering a speech in Parliament on Aug 16, was one of only two contenders in the bitterly fought elections in 2014 and this year. Indonesia's restrictive election law has been blamed for the low number of candidates in presidential elections. PHOTO: REUTERS

Proposed return to 1945 charter would place task of picking leader on legislative assembly

Indonesia's political elite have floated proposals to revert to the 1945 Constitution, which would end the practice of having its president elected directly by the people.

Instead, the job of electing the president would fall on the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which would have control over him, including the power of impeachment and to dictate policy guidelines.

Observers have gauged that the elite share a common objective of shifting the centre of power back to political parties, which they say would be a setback for the progress of democracy in the country.

House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo, who is a senior cadre with second-largest party Golkar, said the MPR should regain its power to elect the nation's president.

The MPR mostly comprise MPs who are loyal to their respective political party leaders and follow the directives they issue.

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

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

Political experts surmised that having more than two candidates would have prevented voters from being split into two polarised camps. Indonesia's restrictive election law has been blamed for the low number of candidates in presidential elections.

Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairman of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, earlier this month obtained a commitment at the party's five-yearly congress for efforts to reinstate a system where the nation's president would answer to the MPR.

The long-defunct system relied on the so-called GBHN, the acronym for the policy framework detailing long-term development plans. Observers said this system 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, an intention that reflects the vested interests of the political elite.

The shift would also allow for back-door deal-making to decide the country's next leaders.

Ms Megawati's closest aide and party secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto argued that the GBHN system would ensure long-term development plans are not affected with a change of president.

Since 2000, Indonesia has come under the RPJPP system, where guidelines on the long-term development plans are discussed and deliberated by the nation's president with the MPs.

Constitutional law academic Veri Junaidi said the GBHN would not work under the current electoral system. "When we had the GBHN, the president was not directly elected. Only members of MPR were elected, which means they held the people's mandate and had the right to appoint the president and dictated policy guidelines," Mr Veri told The Straits Times.

"Now, the president is directly elected; he holds the people's mandate himself."

In an opinion piece in the Kompas daily last Wednesday, Dr Zainal Arifin Mochtar, a law lecturer at Gadjah Mada University, argued that if the political elite were truly worried about long-term development plans, they could propose improvements to the current system.

Mr Dono Prasetyo, a noted campaign supporter of Mr Joko, said that direct elections at the presidential, provincial governor and head of regency levels have produced new reformist leaders, including Mr Joko, who have served the country well.

"The elite just want to cling to power as long as possible," Mr Dono told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesian elite seek end to direct presidential polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe