Abri’s seats in parliament likely to be cut

A consensus is emerging among the major factions on the military’s gradual withdrawal from parliament

A TAUTLY-GUARDED special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) opened yesterday with an emerging consensus on the gradual withdrawal of the military from parliament in five years’ time.

Leaders of the major factions indicated that a decision would be made over the next three days to reduce the number of seats reserved for Abri when a new parliament is convened after a general election next year, with a complete drawdown by the next one in 2004.

The special session opened yesterday with a call by Speaker Harmoko to the 1,000 legislators to “catch the vibrations of the aspirations of the people”.

Originally convened to pass decrees enabling fresh elections next year, its agenda was being expanded to respond to the spirit of reform, he told an audience including President B.J. Habibie.

The issues to be discussed include Abri’s political role, commitments to human rights, a new economic policy to discriminate in favour of small and medium enterprises and anti-corruption measures, with Mr Suharto likely to feature large in the latter although popular demands to drag him before the MPR now looks unlikely to materialise.

With the military maintaining a tight cordon around the parliament complex, the day was marred only slightly by sporadic confrontations between protesters and pro-government vigilante groups allowed by the military to roam the city with rattan sticks.

Golkar faction leader Marzuki Darusman told a briefing for foreign reporters yesterday: “We think that this is now the moment, the right time to make it clear that as of this special assembly, the sociopolitical role of Abri is a temporary one.”

Military leaders talked tough in news briefings yesterday, arguing that Abri was guaranteed 12 to 20 per cent representation in parliament under the country’s 1945 constitution.

But a two-star army general, who prepared a concept paper on the subject, told The Straits Times that the military did anticipate withdrawing from the legislature completely in five years’ time. He said the military was prepared to reduce its presence in parliament by 5-10 per cent, down from its current 75 seats. A new election law being considered cuts Abri’s seats down to 55, or 10 per cent of the new 550-seat parliament.

The Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP), which has been pushing for Abri’s complete ouster, also indicated that it was prepared to compromise.

“We want Abri out,” secretary-general Tosari Widjaya said. “But we are willing to listen to what others have to say. If they want the military to stay, then it has to be at a much reduced level.”

The efforts to keep Abri in parliament for at least the next five years also won support from popular Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid.

Yesterday, he and several other prominent opposition leaders held a rare joint meeting, after which they issued a joint declaration calling for the phased withdrawal of Abri from politics over six years and presidential elections next August, three months ahead of President Habibie’s time-table.

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