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Indonesia’s ‘limited’ constitution changes push sparks criticism

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Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo delivers a speech before the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) at Gedung Nusantara in Jakarta on Monday. INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARIAT PRESS BUREAU

Indonesia’s ‘limited’ constitution changes push sparks criticism

The People’s Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia (MPR) signalled this week that it would move forward with a plan for a “limited amendment” to the 1945 Constitution, following talks with the executive branch of the government.

But concerns abound that the change could upend the country’s democratic system, with sceptics calling the revival of state policy guidelines “unnecessary”.

In a speech on August 16 at the annual state of the nation address, MPR Speaker Bambang Soesatyo claimed it was necessary for the body to introduce so-called state policy outlines (PPHN) to guide national development over the next 50 to 100 years, a clear echo of the state policy guidelines (GBHN) of the New Order era.

Through the PPHN, he suggested, the state’s long-term strategic plans could be realised sustainably and without being redirected by periodic changes in government.

“A limited amendment to the 1945 Constitution is needed, particularly the addition of the MPR’s authority to determine PPHN,” Bambang said during August 16’s joint executive and legislative session.

The plans to amend the Constitution include adding a passage to Article 3 to grant the MPR the authority to formulate the PPHN. The plan would also expand the House of Representatives’ authority under Article 23, granting it the ability to refuse the annual state budget proposal (RAPBN) or return it for correction should it fail to align with the goals set out in the PPHN.

The move has the support of the Regional Representative Council (DPD), with DPD Speaker La Nyalla Mattalitti saying the country should use the PPHN to formulate a long-term vision for energy sovereignty, food sufficiency and health, economic and social resilience, as well as for national security.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo also appears to have given his blessing, despite having rejected the idea of a constitutional amendment early in his second term.

“The MPR’s agenda to study the legal substance and form of the [PPHN] which underlies Indonesia’s sustainable and cross-leadership development, also deserves an appreciation,” Jokowi said in his state of the nation speech.

In 2019, the president said he considered state policy guidelines unnecessary and that his presidency was “a product of direct elections”. He added that it would be better if there were no amendments at all.

Just two days prior to his annual speech on August 16, Jokowi hosted the MPR speaker at Bogor Palace in West Java, where Bambang reportedly discussed the plan to push ahead with the limited amendment.

“The president has left all discussions regarding the amendment to the 1945 Constitution, including the PPHN, to the MPR, noting that this was well within its purview,” he said over the weekend, as quoted by Tempo.co.

Critics, however, say the move undermines the country’s presidential system.

“Reviving the MPR’s authority to create policy guidelines after they were revoked through constitutional reform is the same as making the MPR the highest state institution again,” said constitutional law expert Feri Amsari.

He added that if the amendment was pushed through, all other state institutions would have to carry out their programmes in accordance with the PPHN – including presidents.

“In carrying out his duties, the president will no longer be responsible to the Indonesian people but to the MPR,” Feri said.

Proposals to restore state policy guidelines have been made a number of times since their repeal almost two decades ago, most famously by the country’s fifth president, Megawati Soekarnoputri, who is also the eldest daughter of the country’s founding father Sukarno and the matriarch of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

At a party congress in 2016, Megawati proposed a selective restoration of the MPR’s authority to establish GBHN-like policy guidelines, over concerns about the disconnect between national and regional development programmes.

The state’s vision, she contended, changed every time a new president was elected and depended on the prevailing political moment and style.

The suggestion received mixed responses from other political parties.

The Gerindra Party, which was in the opposition at the time, said that changing one aspect of the Constitution would be like opening Pandora’s box, as it could lead to changes in other aspects, such as bringing back the MPR’s authority to appoint the president.

Bivitri Susanti, a constitutional law expert, on August 18 said that such guidelines were no longer necessary in modern times, where national development was more adaptive and driven by innovation.

She contested the MPR’s assertion that the country’s development had been “without direction” and that there had been a lack of guidance, adding that the proposed PPHN would be more suited to an autocratic government.

Bivitri told the Jakarta Post: “In a modern democracy like ours, the answer is not PPHN or GBHN. It lies with the leadership of the head of government.”



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