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Presidential Elections in 2019
Presidential Elections in 2019

The presidency is dead: Long live the super-parliament
{As President Wahid (Gus Dur) was being dismissed by the ational Assemby and replaced by Mrs Megawati, I came to realise that in 4 years Indonesia gone through 4 presidents. The myth that the original 1945 Constitution provided for a presidential system of government was in my view laid bare as incorrect. This Constitution was in fact “super-parliamentary”, as both the head of state and head of government were elected and dismissed at the same time by a legislative body. I wrote this article a week after he was dismissed. The language is rather blunt suggesting that passions were still running high even inside me!! I believe I wrote this as a possible Op Ed for the The Age in Australia – but it was never published} Imagine an Opposition that could pass laws the Government did not support, and then sack the Prime Minister for not implementing them as they wished. Imagine if the Opposition could tell the PM who should be in the Cabinet. Imagine a PM who could not call an early election, but could still be sacked by the parliament for any reason. Imagine the Opposition could change the Constitution despite the views of others including the Government and had sole power to interpret it. Imagine a parliament in which not one member was elected directly by the public, but where nearly 1/3 of members were concurrent members of their Party Central Executives. Imagine a Prime Minister coming from a party with 10% of seats in Parliament. Finally imagine that most of the people in this country actually believed this Prime Minister enjoyed the powers of a dictator. Surely not on this planet! Well that was the fate of Indonesia's former “Prime Minister”, namely President Wahid. Now imagine all of these same conditions except that the new Prime Minister's party has 33% of seats. This is the fate awaiting Indonesia's new “Prime Minister”, namely President Megawati. Some quick lessons One of the most dramatic lessons of the past month was to confirm that Indonesia's party bosses run the country. The scramble for the Vice-presidency was a field of 5 candidates. In the first round of voting the weakest candidate came from a caucus of non-party social groups (allocated about 10% of seats in Indonesia's superparliament, the National Assembly). The second and third weakest candidates were populist generals. That even reformist generals could be so easily disposed of was another demonstration of the power of the civilian party bosses. The winner and runner up were the party bosses of the third and second largest parties in the parliament. The boss of the largest party is President Megawati. This whole process was overseen by the man who leads the 5th biggest party. Meanwhile the 4th largest party (President Wahid's) boycotted the proceedings. One colourful event revealed the yawning gap between the positions of the MPs and the public. One of Jakarta's TV stations ran a phone poll at the same time as the MPs were voting for the Vice-president. The MPs vote one at a time and in secret. The TV poll indicated about 90% supported one of the candidates (one of the populist generals), with least support for the leader of Golkar, former President Soeharto's old political machine. Yet when the votes of the people's representatives were counted, the “people's choice” came in a poor third! In a second poll during the final run off between the 2 party leaders, more people rang in to say they would rather abstain than vote for the Golkar candidate, leaving him third in a 2 horse race! In the end the winner was the man whose party passionately opposed Megawati for Vice President in 1999 arguing that religion precludes women from being leaders. He is now delighted to be her deputy. Ironically his election this time was due to support from Megawati's party! In the opaque and hyodroponic bubble that is Indonesia's elitist democracy such bizarre switches in position barely rate a mention in any paper or chat show. It reflects sadly on the profound weakness of philosophy and ideology as tools defining and guiding policy. This gap is filled by an extremely personalised political system. What is happening? Indonesians have been brought up to believe that their country has a presidential system in which the President is all powerful. Under the latter years of Sukarno and during the Soeharto period this was clearly the case. There was no way, without major social convulsion and physical threats against them, that the pliant parliamentarians would dare remove the President. It is against this history that we can understand why Indonesians assume the President is still all powerful. Yet over the past three years the traditionally pliant super-parliament (the National Assembly) has affirmed President Soeharto's resignation (after unanimously reelecting him 3 months earlier), elected as Vice-President then 18 months later rejected President Habibie's admission to the Presidential elections in 1999, elected and then 20 months later sacked President Wahid and has now happily supported the appointment of Megawati as President. What changed? The most profound change to affect the balance of power within Indonesia over the past few years was the democratic elections of 1999. Under President Soeharto all candidates from all parties wanting to run for parliament were pre-screened by the Government. This essentially guaranteed the removal of possibly troublesome people before they even got to the voters. Elections were intended to reaffirm that President Soeharto's “New Order” system should continue. Even if some MPs did turn out to be critics, they could be sacked and replaced mid-term. This guaranteed President Soeharto's regular-as-clock-work re-election every 5 years. The 1999 elections took that power from the President. However this power did not quite reach the people. It actually went to the party bosses. They determine who gains a seat based on the proportion of votes their party gets in each province. The voters don't vote for people. They vote for party logos. The faces behind these logos are filled essentially by the party bosses. With this change the potency of the presidency was lost. To make matters worse this election system, like the Australian Senate system, virtually guarantees that no party can actually win the election. As a result horse trading to build a government actually occurs after the election. In Australian terms this means you could vote for the ALP only to find they support the Democrats in Parliament to back the National Party for Prime Minister. Given Indonesia's rich social diversity this guarantee of no election winner is even greater than ours in the Australian Senate. These changes have left the Indonesian presidency a mere political shell of what it was when President Soeharto could sensor who would be allowed to get elected through his well arranged elections. The key problem here is that the President has lots of responsibility but diminishing authority. Meanwhile the parliament enjoys little responsibility but ultimate authority. The result of this situation is that the country is almost ungovernable because the Government is so weak, while members of parliament can enjoy being rambunctious and criticise the ineffectiveness of the Government, at no political cost to themselves. This situation is fundamentally unsustainable. It crys out for a sober re-think about the constitutional foundations of the country. Is anyone in Indonesia listening? Yes but unfortunately it is the super-parliament that has the sole right to make these changes. The question here is why should they want to change the current cosy arrangement where they enjoy lots of power but minimal responsibility? For those who believe President Megawati can fix the myriad of problems affecting the country let them not forget that she is only a weak “Prime Minister”. And like President Wahid, her party does not enjoy majority support in the parliament either. One international magazine recently concluded, not surprisingly, that Indonesia was the worst place in the world to be President. The magazine also discovered that, unlike their American counterparts, hardly any Indonesian children aspired to be President. They seem to understand that having lots of responsibility but little power is a mug's game. The wisdom of youth!
This document was reviewed on 9 Jan 2009, over 8 years from the events. I have also corrected typing mistakes and grammatical errors without changing the integrity and substance of what was initially written.

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