Jokowi asserts constitutional amendment on State Policy Guidelines only

(Photo: Prive. Doc)

IO, Jakarta – Discussions on a constitutional amendment have been heated recently. Responding to the commotion, Gerindra Deputy Chairman Fadli Zon stated he believed the idea of extending term limits to three periods was dangerous. He believes that the plan could potentially destroy Indonesia’s democracy. “I think this is a very dangerous idea,” said Fadli in a discussion titled “Calculating the Chances of a Constitutional Amendment” in the Parliament Complex, Senayan, Jakarta on Monday (02/12/2019).

According to Fadli, changing the constitution was one way an incumbent could try to extend their stay in power. “Because there is a tendency for incumbents to try to extend their power and there is research on this, in the research there are at least five ways an incumbent will try to protect their power and there are many ways of protecting that power, including amending the changing the constitution to delaying the elections,” he said.

The Committee for Inter‑Parliamentary Cooperation (BKSAP) Chair stated that if Indonesia is still commited to democracy, it would be best not to pass the amendment. He believes the extension of term limits would only open a Pandora’s box and facilitate temporary interests. “If we open our Pandora’s box, people could question various things including the form of the state, whether it is a unity of federation, even the nation’s foundations, the nation’s foundations have also been debates in the constituent assembly for years and there was even voting which ended with only a 60 seat, 60 vote difference,” said Fadli.

The Democratic Party has expressed its official stance on the extension of presidential term limits to three periods. The party, which was founded by Indonesia’s sixth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, outright rejects the idea. Democratic Party Secretary-General Hinca Pandjaitan stated that learning from Indonesia’s history, two-term presidential limits was the correct approach. The same two-term limits were also seen in many other democratic countries. “Presidential power too long in the hands of one person tends to be misused,” said Hinca.

Meanwhile, MPR Golkar fraction Head Idris Laena stated that amending the constitution too often could bring in problems as the constitution has plotted the foundational document of Indonesia. He questioned the urgency of the amendment and the cause of its recent high-profile discussions. He believes there needs to be in-depth study on the need for such an amendment. “We from the Golkar fraction want to conduct an in-depth study. In several of our studies, we sought to understand how much this amendment is truly wanted,” said Idris.

MPR PPP fraction Deputy Head Syaifullah Tamliha stated that until now, the MPR has not discussed an amendment to the 1945 constitution. MPR has only discussed State Policy Guidelines, on whether the State Policy Guidelines were under the authority of an MPR Decree or through laws. If able to be controlled by an MPR Decree, then a constitutional amendment would be needed. According to him, it would be difficult to carry out a constitutional amendment. From his experience as part of the MPR PPP fraction leadership, questions on the State Policy Guidelines alone had not yet concluded in an agreement. There were three fractions who wanted the main points of the State Policy Guidelines to be regulated in the laws and seven plus the DPD who wanted it to be in the form of an MPR Decree. “We have not yet discussed the amendment itself. We never discussed the extension of presidential term limits to three periods or the appointment of a President by the MPR. That was never discussed in the MPR,” he said.

Jokowi Refuses
President Joko Widodo has joined in on the discussion of a constitutional amendment to extend presidential term limits to three periods. Jokowi asserted that he did not agree with the extension, which would give a president a potential 15 years in office. “There are people who have spoken about a president chosen for three periods. I interpret this in three ways. First, to slap me in the face. Second, to look for praise, even though I already have fame. Third, to bring me down. That is all,” said Jokowi form the Presidential Palace, Jakarta on Monday (02/12/2019).

The president stated that since the beginning, the request for a constitutional amendment was only for the State Policy Guidelines and it should not be extended to include other issues such as presidential term limits. However, the reality is it has. “Now the reality is it has. Some say the president should be chosen by the MPR, some say the president should have three periods, some say the president should have eight years terms. It has gone everywhere, just as I said. So, it’s better if there is no amendment,” said Jokowi.

The NasDem Party, however, seems to be pursuing a three-term presidential limit. “The suggestion didn’t come from Nasdem. Mr. Surya (Nasdem Chairman) when asked about the discussion of a three-term presidential limit answered that it was up to the people, if the people want it how could NasDem refuse. So, it isn’t Nasdem who suggests it,” said Nasdem Executive Board Head Taufik Basari to reporters on Monday (2/12/2019).

Other than Nasdem, Golkar member and MPR Speaker Bambang Soesatyo also stated that the discussions on extending the presidential term limits came from the people. Bambang asserted that the MPR has no right to stop such aspirations. “The idea for a three term limit for the president isn’t from the MPR, because this is an aspiration which developed amidst the people. We don’t have a right to kill that aspiration,” said Bambang in Jakarta, Tuesday (26/11/2019).

Previously, MPR Deputy Speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid stated that there were discussions to chance the presidential and vice-presidential term limits in the constitutional amendment. This means, the amendment would no longer just be about the State Policy Guidelines. According to Hidayat, there were MPR fraction members who put forth discussions on a three-term presidential limit. There were also those who put forth the idea of a one term presidential limit but with an eight-year serving period. “Yes, the discussions on the amendment were diverse, some were about three-term limits, some were on just one term but for eight years. We can’t forbid people from proposing such ideas,” said Hidayat on Wednesday (20/11/2019).

Exiting the coalition
Political communication expert from Universitas Pelita Harapan, Emrus Sihombing believes that a constitutional amendment must not surrender to just the MPR. This is because there would certainly be political party interests. “Political interests will fill it. Every political party has its own unique perspective, different from other parties,” he explained.

As a result, Emrus suggested that a team be consisting of academicians and legal experts be established. The carefully-selected team would then conduct studies on the urgency of an amendment. The constitution is not only the created by the MPR but rather the product of everyone and includes input from the public. “The study results from a team of academicians and legal experts would then be compared to what the MPR comes up with. As such, whether or not there are political party interests in the MPR can be seen. The public can also see how urgent the amendment is,” he explained.

Furthermore, Emrus stated that from the statements of the President, the word “bring down” had a relatively similar meaning, both connotatively and denotatively. This means that the people who suggest or discuss a three-term presidential limit are trying to take down Jokowi. So, the suggestion is unfortunate. As a result, he believes these politicians must be held responsible for their statements in the public arena.

One way of taking responsibility is for parties which have members that have stated these ideas to exit the president’s coalition. If outside the coalition, the three-term presidential limit could be discussed more freely. (Dan)