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Indonesian Government Mulls Possibility of Direct Elections - 2002-07-03

There are growing signs that Indonesia's dominant political party is backing away from the idea of direct presidential elections. The issue is one of the constitutional reforms to be debated at next month's annual session of Indonesia's national legislature.

There has been increasing debate in Indonesia's news media over the idea of direct presidential elections in 2004.

Wednesday, The Jakarta Post newspaper quoted a top official of President Megawati Sukarnoputri's party as saying the president wants to postpone a decision on direct elections.

Secretary General Sutjipto of Ms. Megawati's People's Democratic Party of Struggle is quoted saying the president thinks Indonesia is not ready for electoral reforms in time for the 2004 election.

The annual session of Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly, the national legislature, begins next month. The Assembly has the power to reform the Constitution, which promises direct elections eventually.

The Assembly elects and removes presidents from office. Presidential elections are usually marked by backroom discussions and politicking among the dozens of factions in the 700-member Assembly.

Etsi Yudhini is a constitutional reform expert with the National Democratic Institute in Jakarta. She said direct elections would create a stronger system of checks and balances in the government by taking power out of the hands of the Assembly, called the MPR, and putting it in the hands of the people.

"So even though the results of the general election is in favor of certain parties, it is not sure that the presidential candidate from that party is going to be elected president, because the president previously is what the MPR wants, not what the people wants," Ms. Yudhini said.

Although the Assembly can delay direct presidential elections, Ms. Yudhini said it is certain the reforms eventually will be made. "Whether they like it or not, it has been amended in the Constitution, that the president is going to be directly elected. The Third constitutional amendment has already been promulgated, so there's little that PDIP or even the president can do toward a directly elected president," Ms. Yudhini said.

The National assembly convenes during the first two weeks Of August.