Saturday, May 19, 2007

Regional council, experts battle govt over constitution amendment

Saturday, May 12, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government's opposition to further amendments to the 1945 Constitution is being challenged by the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and experts, who say the regions are not yet fully represented in the law-making process.

The DPD has called for the amendment of Article 22 of the Constitution to strengthen its position vis-a-vis the House of Representatives (DPR), which has been accused of sidelining the DPD during the deliberation of important laws.

The regional council has argued that its legislative rights are currently limited to merely preparing bills linked to regional interests and that a strengthening of its position would greatly aid the implementation of regional autonomy, as well as establish a proper bicameral system of representation.

"The other political institutions, such as the DPR, do not really represent regional interests as they adhere more to political parties and are Jakarta-oriented," said Siti Zuhro, an expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), during a talk show Friday.

The DPD should be given the authority to provide clear and concrete contributions and also to improve the check-and-balance system, Siti said.

"We need an institution that really represents regional interests. What is the point in creating an institution and providing it with a huge amount of money but not giving it an adequate role?" she asked. "That is just squandering time and money."

Siti said Article 22 of the Constitution explicitly subordinates the DPD and therefore requires amendment.

Muhammad Qodari, an observer from Indo Barometer, told the discussion that good political communication between the DPD, the House and the public would reduce the fear that the Constitution might be extremely revised, and help people opposing amendment to understand that only one article is being targeted.

"If the public becomes less resistant, the House might be more willing to support the amendment," Qodari said.

Former state secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra said Article 22 was the result of a political compromise between opposing political powers during the four rounds of constitutional amendment between 1999 and 2002.

Yusril said that if amending the Constitution was found to be too difficult, it may be more effective to revise the 2003 Law on the Composition and Structure of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the DPR and Provincial and Regental Legislatures.

This law puts the DPD in a position similar to that of a faction that is involved only in the early stages of the deliberation of a law.

Yusril said that by revising the 2003 law, the DPD would be able to fully participate in deliberating laws as they see fit.

In order to prevent a protracted amendment process, he also suggested the amendment of Article 22 be done simultaneously with the revision of the law on political parties.

Bambang Suroso, a DPD member, said the limited role of the DPD made it difficult for its members to be accountable to their constituents.

"We are like spectators to the legislation process. We have proposed 92 products of legislation with seven among them really accommodating local aspirations. We never know what the DPR will do about this legislation," Bambang said.

"How can we prove our moral or political responsibility to our constituents?"

The Democratic Party faction withdrew its support for the proposal following an announcement by the faction's chairman, Syarief Hassan, that 23 party legislators, who had previously agreed to the proposed amendment, had declined to sign.

Chapters 3 and 37 of the Constitution state that the only body with authority to amend the Constitution is the MPR, which requires at least one-third of its 677 members to approve such a proposal. (02)

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