New blow to Indonesia's Widodo at rowdy parliament opening

New blow to Indonesia's Widodo at rowdy parliament opening
Newly inaugurated parliament members (Left), supporters of president-elect Joko Widodo, protest to the head of the parliament plenary session (Right) in Jakarta on early October 2, 2014.

JAKARTA - Indonesian opposition politicians won key posts in parliament on Thursday (Oct 2) after new leader Joko Widodo's supporters stormed out of a rowdy opening session, heightening fears a divided legislature will hinder his ambitious reforms.

Parliament convened for a new term on Wednesday, dominated by parties that backed ex-general Prabowo Subianto in July's presidential election, which he lost to Widodo, the country's first leader without deep roots in the autocratic past.

Prabowo's backers had already flexed their muscles in the final days of the previous parliament last week by voting to abolish the direct election of local leaders, a heavy blow for Widodo who described it as a step back for the young democracy.

They sought to keep up the momentum at the 560-member legislature's opening by ensuring their supporters were chosen as the speaker and four deputy speakers, key figures as they steer debates on new laws.

The opposing sides locked horns in a heated, all-night debate, with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle of Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, demanding that the nomination of the posts be delayed due to the late hour.

But the opposition insisted the jobs be picked immediately, prompting Widodo's supporters to storm the speaker's podium in the early hours, and to walk out shortly afterwards.

This left the parties backing Prabowo, which control 63 per cent of seats, with no opposition to their choices, which were confirmed early Thursday.

Setya Novanto, a senior figure from the Golkar party - the former political vehicle of former president Suharto, who was toppled in 1998 - was selected as speaker and three other opposition politicians were named as his deputies.

The stormy opening session was a bad omen for Widodo, who will be inaugurated as president on Oct 20, as he will need parliamentary support to push through reforms aimed at reviving the economy and helping the poor, analysts said.

"The relationship between the president and parliament will be marked by conflict in the coming five years," said Syamsuddin Haris, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, referring to the length of Widodo's term.

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