Indonesian opposition parties seek greater reform

INDONESIA’S two opposition parties began the hustings yesterday with a push for greater political and economic reform, including a call by the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) to establish a fixed term for the presidency.

Both the Christian-nationalist PDI and the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) also criticised social inequalities and big businesses which, they said, did not do enough to help the poor.

PDI chairman Soerjadi said that while the New Order government under President Suharto had reaped economic benefits for the country, there were still glaring deficiencies in the system which had to be corrected.

“The rich are very rich and the poor very poor,” he told some 2,000 party supporters in Pontianak, Kalimantan, yesterday.

Besides eradicating poverty, there was also a need for political reform, he told reporters in Jakarta on Saturday night, suggesting that the government could speed up the democratisation process in the country by strengthening its political institutions.

One such institution was the presidency which, he said, should be made more accountable to the 1,000-member People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and Parliament.

The assembly, the country’s highest legislative body, is made up of 425 elected MPs and 575 presidential appointees and is responsible for electing the President and Vice-President.

He said the President’s authority needed to be regulated so that his decisions would be in line with the Constitution. He pointed out that, currently, the President could, for example, make bilateral agreements and initiate economic policies like devaluation without consulting Parliament.

Calling for laws to regulate presidential power, he said the President’s term should be limited to two five-year terms.

PPP chairman Ismail Hasan Metareum echoed similar sentiments in a campaign speech to some 5,000 people in Medan, Sumatra, yesterday. “The public has long been just an object of the state. It has no power,” he said, stressing a need for more political freedom.

The country’s socioeconomic disparities also had to be addressed, he said. For instance, more had to be done to help small industries which were discriminated against and given little chance of getting credit from banks.

“Only big businesses and monopolies get backing everywhere in the country,” he said.

Analysts believe that the two opposition parties will focus on issues such as political reform, economic inequality and a fairer distribution of wealth in the weeks of campaigning ahead.

In the last election in 1992, the PPP won 17 per cent of the votes while the PDI secured 15 per cent.

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