Indonesian MPs Take Oath amid Protests over Legislation

Arie Firdaus
191001_ID_Demo_1000.jpg An Indonesian student lies on the ground to symbolize the death of the Corruption Eradication Commission during a rally outside the parliament in Jakarta, Oct. 1, 2019.

Indonesia swore in a new parliament on Tuesday as about 1,000 students rallied outside the legislative complex here against laws that, critics said, would curtail freedoms and the country’s fight against corruption.

Days of nationwide protests against the passage of a bill governing the Corruption Eradication Commission and proposed revisions to the criminal code have led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators in recent days.

Security was tight in the capital on Tuesday, with 24,000 personnel deployed in the streets of Jakarta leading to the Parliament building and key locations, police said.

Puan Maharani, the only daughter of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, was sworn in as the speaker of the 575-member House of Representatives (DPR). She is the first woman to serve in that role.

After taking the oath, she pledged to make parliament “the people’s house.”

“We will embrace all the aspirations of the people,” Puan, a granddaughter of the country’s first president, Sukarno, said in her speech.

Members of a coalition supporting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo make up 60 percent of the legislature. Jokowi is scheduled to be sworn as president for a second term on Oct. 20 after winning the April 17 presidential election.

At least two students have died and hundreds others injured in clashes since protests began on Sept. 23, authorities said.

Unlike the protests in the previous days, Tuesday’s demonstrations in Jakarta were largely peaceful, officials said, with about 1,000 students handing out flowers to anti-riot police while urging the new parliament not to pass the bill on the criminal code in its present form.

“They must listen to the aspirations of the people. Don't just prioritize the interests of their groups and parties,” 20-year-old Bimo Wardhana, a student majoring in information technology, told BenarNews.

The new lawmakers are expected to deliberate immediately on the criminal code after their predecessors postponed its passage at Jokowi’s request.

Outside parliament, student demonstrators sang patriotic songs, laid wreaths and displayed a mock tombstone to protest the death of two students during clashes with security personnel on Thursday in Kendari, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi province.

Muhammad Nurdiansyah, leader of the alliance of Indonesian Student Executive Boards, shouted to riot police: “Please remember, the people you shot the other day, were students, your fellow citizens.”

New lawmakers must not forget their promises to voters, said Hikmawan Saputra, a student at Jakarta State University.

“We want to remind DPR members that they are elected representatives of the people,” he told BenarNews. “They are elected not to betray the people.”

Criminalizing sex outside marriage

Tens of thousands of students have been holding daily demonstrations across the country against proposed laws that would criminalize sex outside marriage, cohabitation, insulting the president and most abortions.

Protesters have also demanded that the government annul the recently passed law governing the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Changes to the KPK include establishing a supervisory agency tasked with monitoring the commission’s conduct and restricting its ability to wire-tap suspects.

The bill to change the criminal code would have allowed a prison sentence of up to one year for consensual sex outside of marriage, while a couple living together without the blessings of marriage could potentially be imprisoned for up to six months. The bill requires complaints from spouses, parents or children for police to press charges.

In addition, anyone convicted of insulting the president or vice president could face a prison term of up to 4 ½ years. Insulting the president and vice president was decriminalized by the Constitutional Court in 2016 following a legal challenge.

Indonesian marines hold flowers handed out by student protesters during a rally outside the parliament in Jakarta, Oct. 1, 2019.
Indonesian marines hold flowers handed out by student protesters during a rally outside the parliament in Jakarta, Oct. 1, 2019.

At least 209 protesters and 41 police were injured in clashes on Monday, Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said. He said 519 people were arrested but did not say what charges they were facing.

“We are still delving into their roles in yesterday’s rioting,” Argo told BenarNews.

Some observers greeted the new parliament with pessimism.

Titi Anggaraini, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), said the fact that more than 50 percent of the newly sworn House members were old faces who drafted the controversial legislation was a cause for concern.

“I am quite alarmed because the figures involved in the ratification of controversial laws such as the revision of the criminal code and the KPK still retain their positions,” Titi told BenarNews.

“These people were supposed to inspire public confidence in the parliament, but they have instead raised doubts about our democratic process,” she said.

Perludem deems the performance of the previous parliament to be poor, passing only 84 of 189 bills they took up in the 2014-2019 period, Titi said.

But the new parliament should learn from past mistakes and not pass bills hastily just to achieve targets, said Ujang Komarudin, a political analyst at Al Azhar Indonesia University, told BenarNews

“Given that many bills are problematic and have been rejected, lawmakers should not be careless in drafting legislation,” he said. “The new legislators have tougher tasks because the credibility of the DPR has been undermined.”


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