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Indonesian President to Override Controversial Election Law

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, left, speaks with president-elect Joko Widodo after a ceremony inaugurating a new parliament, Jakarta, Oct. 1, 2014.

Following widespread criticism, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday said he will issue a decree to reverse a controversial new law that would end direct regional elections.

A coalition of civil society groups in Indonesia have been preparing to fight the controversial new measure in the nation's Constitutional Court.

Direct elections in Indonesia have been in place since 2005 and played an integral role in the country’s embrace of democracy. The legislation was passed last week after Yudhoyono's ruling party abstained from the final vote, walking out of the parliamentary session to protest not being able to add amendments to the bill.

In a controversial move, parliamentarians carried out the vote anyway, calling the system of direct regional elections inefficient and prone to local conflict and corruption.

On Tuesday, Yudhoyono had expressed determination to reverse the law after members of his Democratic Party of Indonesia "changed our mind, having listened to the people's aspirations in rejecting election by local councils."

On Wednesday he decided to override parliament's decision and re-establish direct local elections with some modifications, though it is not yet clear what those modifications will be.

"In principle I’m going to submit the [decree] to the House of Representatives [DPR] maybe after today or tomorrow, after I received a draft of the voting results from the DPR," he said. "According to the law, I have to sign it first."

Many have questioned the president's honesty on the matter, given that he could have stopped the bill before it was deliberated by parliament. His party has also been criticized for walking out of last week's legislative session.

Yudhoyono is in the last weeks of his 10 years in power. President-elect Joko Widodo will take office later this month.

The Red and White coalition that backed losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto this year was the major backer of the measure to stop direct local elections. They have said they will reject the presidential decree, but it is not clear if they can override it.

Senior analyst Rahadi Wiratama says the dispute will remain a hot issue during the transition period before Widodo takes office.

He adds that the Red and White coalition will continue to make things difficult for Widodo once he is in power.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Indonesian service. Katie Lamb contributed to this report.

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