Indonesian parliament to vote on controversial election plan

Indonesian parliament to vote on controversial election plan
Aerial view of Jakarta’s prime business district.

JAKARTA - Indonesia's parliament was Thursday set to decide whether to scrap the direct election of local leaders, a move that critics warn would roll back a key democratic reform of the post-Suharto era.

Lawmakers were expected to vote on a proposal that would end the current system of mayors, provincial governors and district heads being chosen by the public, and hand power to local parliaments to pick them.

Supporters argue that the hundreds of polls held across the world's biggest archipelago nation every few years are enormously costly and in reality only allow the wealthy to win election.

However critics say the move is an attempt by the elite to reverse the decentralisation of power from Jakarta introduced after the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998, and argue it will increase corruption as would-be leaders may have to strike deals with local MPs.

"Now our leaders listen to the public's voice and aspirations," said Titi Anggraini, director of Perludem, an independent elections watchdog that opposes the move.

The proposed new law "would set back our democracy", she added.

Critics also view it as an attempt at revenge by the opponents of Joko Widodo, who was elected as president in July and will be inaugurated next month - he is an outsider who started his political career by being directly elected as a local mayor.

The draft bill to abolish the direct elections is being pushed by parties that backed his opponent for the presidency, Prabowo Subianto, an ex-general with a chequered human rights record.

While it would do away with local leaders being picked by the public, it would still allow for the election of local legislatures.

However with the 560-strong House of Representatives in Jakarta gearing up to decide on the proposal, it was still not clear which way MPs would vote.

Six parties who had backed Prabowo at the election originally supported the proposal, and only three were opposed, meaning it looked likely to pass.

However President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has voiced his opposition and ordered members of his Democratic Party, which had backed Prabowo, to vote against it.

This should have given opponents enough support - but now divisions have appeared in the Democrats. It was not clear when the vote would be finished as parliamentary sessions in Indonesia sometimes run late into the night.

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