Horse Trading Rules

Agreement to the Presidential Election Law has prioritized party interests. What about the practices of "trading" in the sensitive articles?

PERMADI could not hold back his feelings. The member of the House of Representatives (DPR) from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) interrupted the plenary meeting for acceptance of the Law on the Election of Presidents and Vice Presidents, last Monday. He deplored the removal of the condition from the legislation that presidential and vice-presidential candidates may not be the accused in a legal case.

The interruption by this leading figure who is fond of wearing all-black clothing prompted nothing more than a quick response. The meeting's chair, Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno, also from PDI-P, blocked him with a few short words: "That will be discussed later in each faction." And Permadi dropped his protest. Because, in formal terms, his faction had already accepted the law without reserve.

Outside the chamber, Permadi claimed that he personally still objected to these new measures. "If the law is passed, it means that Sumanto could become president," he said. The Sumanto he meant was the convicted cannibal whose case recently caused such a commotion. Permadi was surprised: in the province of Lampung alone, Alzier, suspected of criminal deeds, failed to become governor even though he had already won a democratic election. "Don't let the public come to feel that the local legislation in the provinces is far better than the national," he added.

The plenary meeting finally proceeded smoothly. However, there was one interruption from Muhaimin from the National Awakening Party (PKB) Faction, who claimed that campaign fund contributions for presidential elections had not been regulated. The rest was extremely smooth. Without much debate and in a time span which could be considered relatively short, Soetardjo rapped his gavel as a sign of the DPR plenary meeting's acceptance.

All this was thanks to lobbying. The members of the working committee had previously frequently met at the Hotel Santika, Jakarta. That forum discussed the essence of the draft bill before it was agreed. At those meetings there was tough debate over two crucial problems: the required percentage of seats won for political parties that were to be allowed to submit presidential candidates and the requirements for candidacy. Within this there was the issue of the requirement for degree-level tertiary education (S-1), of not facing legal charges, and of being in good physical and mental health.

Because this was so tough, this problem was only resolved after being discussed seven times. This was then continued in marathon meetings which usually lasted from 8pm through to 3am. The grounds for each faction agreeing or not to the two problems were indeed quite complex. Take the example of an accused who may not become a presidential candidate proposed to the government. All factions agreed to that except for the Golkar Party.

The `Banyan tree' camp used the ruse, borrowing from the legal world, that the basis of innocence until proven guilty must be upheld. So long as the accused's status was not final under the law, the one affected could not be said to be in the wrong and then have their rights suppressed. "We all went for Golkar over that," said Amin Said Husni from the PKB Faction. They well understood that this involved Akbar Tandjung, the General Chairman of Golkar, who will apparently step forward at the party's convention.

On the other hand, Golkar supported the requirement for a minimal bachelor degree level education. This was also supported by the Reform Faction and Crescent Star Party, but rejected by PDI-P. PDI-P claimed that someone's capability and capacity is not always determined by their education. The proof is that many leaders are successful but do not have degrees. The PKB Faction itself was not fixed on the formal requirement for a bachelor degree, but what was important was that the candidate has an adequate level of intellect.

The requirement that the candidate be physically and mentally healthy proposed by the government was agreed to by all factions except the PKB. "In this area, it was our turn to be turned on by all the others," quipped Amin Said with a laugh. Everyone knows, PKB has an interest in its candidate, former president Abdurrahman Wahid alias Gus Dur--the Chair of PKB's Advisory Council--who is apparently insistent he wants another go.

What about the winning of a minimum 20 percent of the vote as the requirement for a party to put up a presidential candidate as in the draft proposal from the government? The parties didn't buy it. It was only supported by PDI-P and Golkar, the two biggest party winners in the 1999 election. The other factions rejected it. In fact the requirement does have some basis: the strength of the governance must be backed by strength in the legislature. "If the president's party has only 3 percent of the seats in the legislature, his governance will find it hard to work. Gus Dur's experience could become a lesson for us," said Muhammad Akil Mochtar, a member of the special committee from Golkar.

However, don't think all this tough debate took place in a fiery atmosphere. It was all done while cracking jokes and laughing boisterously. Of course, all the lobbyists knew the direction in which the discussion was headed. If they were talking about the issue of being an accused, the direction was clear. Talking about the degree requirement, that too was also clear. On being of healthy mind and body, there was no doubt. "We just kidded around," said Amin Said.

After the lobby forum went round and round three times without agreement, the participants finally decided to return to the formulation in the constitution. Article 6 of the 1945 Constitution states that the general requirements for candidates are that they be Indonesian citizens, be mentally and physically capable, and have never betrayed the nation. From that basis, agreement finally did emerge. "Just let the candidates compete fairly. Let's not have any articles which interfere with one or the other's chances," said Amin Said.

The issue which was first agreed on was that of vote percentage. The problem being that the Reform Faction did not want to discuss any other matters if this one was not resolved. The lobby forum finally did agree that, for 2004, the minimum requirement to be met for political parties to put up presidential candidates would be quite unrestrictive: it is sufficient to obtain 3 percent of the seats in the national legislature and 5 percent of the national vote. PAN, which is interested in putting up its general chairperson, Amien Rais, was finally relieved with this.

As soon as the troublesome article, which could have forestalled the latter's candidacy was removed, the defenses of the Reform Faction, too, collapsed. "They no longer vehemently defended the other requirements which earlier had seemed so ideal," said Amin Said.

It was then the turn of PDI-P to ask that the education requirement for candidates be lowered to a level equal to senior high school graduate, to which all the others immediately agreed. Golkar, which initially held back, become more flexible. "If Golkar hadn't followed suit, then we would have been left as the odd man out; that would be stupid, wouldn't it?" said Akil Mochtar.

The rest of the story is not hard to guess. The barricade of all the sensitive articles which had initially been built up so solidly finally fell. The requirement to be of sound physical and mental health was also withdrawn. And finally, the requirement that a candidate not be the accused in a case was also abandoned.

These "horse trading" practices have not escaped criticism. The politicians in the DPR are viewed as having wasted a golden opportunity to end up with a solid president, only for the sake of defending the narrow interests of their own parties. Hadar N. Gumay, Deputy Executive Director of Cetro, an election monitoring NGO, deplores this cheap compromise. "So much energy has been wasted and yet once again we will probably see presidential candidates who are problematic," he said in a disappointed tone.

But there are too those who can understand the outcome. Riswanda Imawan, a political observer who took part in drafting the Presidential Election Bill, is not surprised. "Mutual tolerance among stakeholders is unavoidable," he said. "It is nonsense to say parties have no interests," said Akil Mochtar bluntly. They would rather avoid voting. As a result of this practice, the structure which the government had drawn up in its proposed draft has drifted off by 20-30 percent.

Riswanda does have a small qualification, though. If the team of experts that had drawn up the draft of the bill had been involved in the lobbying process, the outcome might possibly have been different. They ought to have been invited to give their views. "It's like taking away a computer, but leaving the CPU behind," he said with some vexation. Riswanda was actually invited to Jakarta for the discussions. But, while he was at the DPR, he only ate and lounged around. "It seems I had just been invited to sit down quietly and make everything look good," said the lecturer in political science from Gadjah Mada University.

In fact, if he had been involved, Riswanda could have provided some academic justification. Take, for example, the question of the educational requirement for presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The suggestion to change this to a level equivalent to senior high school graduate does make sense because--according to statistical data--the highest proportion of Indonesians are those who are in this category: 27 percent. "That is a populist figure," he suggested.

But the argument of the `Banyan tree' camp on the status of an accused for a presidential candidate can also be shot down. The issue being that, in criminal law the basis in effect is res judicata pro veritate habetur. This means that a judge's decisions must be assumed to be correct until a decision is handed down by a higher judge. "Given that determination, the public need not be concerned that there will ever be a presidential candidate who is an accused, let alone one who has already been convicted," he said.

If that is the situation, it could happen that Akbar Tandjung, the esteemed Golkar chief who now heads up the DPR, will have to wait outside the arena. He was found guilty in a case involving corruption of Rp40 billion of Bulog's non-budgetary funds and sentenced to three years imprisonment by panels of judges in both the district court and high court. His fate now hinges on an appeal decision of the Supreme Court--which is why Golkar considers his sentence "does not yet have the standing of a final decision under law."

There is thus an opportunity for Akbar Tandjung, or the butcher Sumanto--if later he should by some twist nominate himself or be nominated to become president--or whoever else who has problems, to finally squeak through. Yet again this nation must pay dearly for the shortcomings of the people's elected representatives.

Nugroho Dewanto, Abdul Manan, Yandi Rofiandi (TNR)

TEMPO, JULY 21, 2003-045/P. 14 Heading National


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