Minister calls for two-term limit for Indonesian presidents

AN INDONESIAN minister has called for limiting a president’s tenure in office to 10 years – a maximum of two terms – after President Suharto leaves office, newspapers here reported yesterday.

“For the sake of development, future presidents should only be in office for one or two terms,” Transmigration Minister Siswono Yudohusodo was quoted as saying.

“National leaders succeeding President Suharto, whose tenure, God willing, will last through 2003, should hold their position for only two periods.”

He told a leadership seminar on Wednesday that his suggestion to limit a president’s tenure was based on the view that Indonesia had now returned to normality after confronting various problems following its independence from the Dutch in 1945.

Such difficulties, he said, had resulted in the rise to power of leaders like former President Sukarno and Mr Suharto “by extraordinary means” and the legitimisation of their long stay in office.

“The late President Sukarno played an outstanding role in our struggle for independence. President Suharto rescued the country from disintegration and has helped increase the welfare of the citizens ever since,” he said.

“The people did not object when they stayed long in power. However, in the future, we no longer expect to elect our presidents in such extraordinary ways, but in normal ways as suggested by the Constitution.”

The 1945 Constitution stipulates that a president is elected for a five-year term and can be re-elected, though it does not specify a term limit.

Mr Siswono, who was a prominent political activist in the post-independence period, said that a public consensus on the presidential term limit was necessary. But he stopped short of calling for a revision of the Constitution.

Mr Suharto, 76, was first elected to the country’s top post in 1968 and has run unopposed in every election since 1971.

Political sources said that Mr Siswono’s comments reflected in the views of other ministers like Research and Technology Minister B.J. Habibie and National Development Planning Minister Ginanjar Kartasasmita.

An analyst familiar with the thinking of the three ministers said the aim was “to gain political capital by describing Suharto’s accomplishments as well as appealing to public demands for fixed presidential terms”.

Others said that this was “old debate” given that political parties like the Indonesian Democratic Party had previously camp aigned on the issue during the general election.

Mr Siswono’s comments come as Mr Suharto’s candidacy in next year’s presidential election was all but assured following the backing he received this week from the ruling Golkar and the armed forces.

Mr Siswono also added his support for Mr Suharto’s candidacy. This now includes Defence Minister Edi Sudradjat, former minister Frans Seda and Presidential Advisory Council chairman Sudomo.

Analysts said that the expressions of support from such key players were aimed at underscoring unwavering backing for the President and dispeling any notion that his age and health were issues of concern. He is widely expected to be re-elected in March next year.

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