Ministers and other members of House Commission II after signing the perppu in to law. All parties in the House have committed their support to direct elections, though all but the Democratic Party have argued for some revision.  (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Direct Elections ‘Bring Democracy Back’ to Indonesia

BY :MARKUS JUNIANTO SIHALOHO & YUSTINUS PAAT

JANUARY 21, 2015

Jakarta. The House of Representatives on Tuesday ratified into law an emergency government regulation that restores direct elections of regional leaders in Indonesia.

The ratification quickly drew praise from analysts who said that Indonesia’s democracy was back on track.

“It’s a people’s victory,” said Arie Sudjito, a political expert from the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

In September, the House agreed on a proposal put forward by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government to give local legislative councils the power to appoint district heads, mayors and governors, ending nearly a decade of direct elections.

The move sparked anger from people across the country, accusing the House and Yudhoyono of betraying the people, and claiming Indonesia’s democracy had returned to a system similar with that of Suharto’s totalitarian New Order regime.

Many also feared the opposition would dominate the regional leaders posts because they dominate most of the legislative councils, opening the possibility for them to block any policies by President Joko Widodo, who at that time was declared the president-elect by the General Elections Commission (KPU) after he defeated Prabowo Subianto in a tightly contested  national election.

After seeing the public anger, Yudhoyono backpedaled, saying that he never wanted indirect elections as his Democratic Party had proposed as a revision to the existing system of direct elections.

He quickly proposed an emergency government regulation, known as perppu, while declaring that indirect election law was scrapped.

“Now, the perppu has become a law. So we can begin direct elections in many regions across the nation,” Arie said.

But the KPU would not be able to make preparations for some 200 local elections, set to be held simultaneously this year, as nine of the 10 factions at the House demanded some changes in the newly passed law.

“Each faction has presented its views, which in general accepts the perppu to be ratified into law,” said Rambe Kamarul Zaman, chairman of the House Commission II, which oversees home affairs.

Rambe was referring to the government regulation in lieu of law passed by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his last days in office.

The perppu annulled the 2014 regional elections law, which eliminated regional elections and instead provided authority for local legislatures to appoint governors, district heads and mayors.

However, Rambe said that most factions have urged for some changes to the new law.

“We will propose a bill, drafted by House Commission II, which will improve the new law pertaining to candidate eligibility, stages of elections and public hearings, among others,” the Golkar Party politician said.

The Democratic Party, chaired by the former president, was the only party that opposed any revision arguing the law is already perfect.

“We don’t want any more revisions. The regulation itself already contains enough substance on the direct regional election system and revisions from the previous law. It already includes suggestions to make the elections better,” Commission II member Saan Mustopa, a Democrat, said on Tuesday.

Moreover, making revisions will take time and Indonesia needs the new law immediately, Saan added, as more than 200 local elections are set to be held this year.

The process of preparing more changes will affect the preparations for local elections, he stressed.

“It will be difficult for the KPU to do its job,” the politician said.

Last year, parties from the opposition Red-White Coalition, including representatives of the National Mandate Party (PAN), the Golkar Party and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), voted in favor of abolishing regional elections.

But their stance changed after the Democratic Party announced that it would be  leaving the bloc.

All 10 factions at the House on Monday expressed their commitment to ratify the perppu. House Speaker Setya Novanto called on Commission II members to expedite the drafting of the new bill and conclude the ratification process before the House sitting period ends on Feb. 18.

“I have asked each faction to conclude the revision during this sitting period so they would not disrupt the simultaneous regional elections schedule,” said Setya, who is also a Golkar politician.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon, of Gerindra, said the revision would not change the substance of the newly passed law. He added that the changes “are very technical.”

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said the government was open to revisions and pledged to work with the House “intensively” on the planned revisions.

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