By Cecep Effendi
Members of the House of Representatives are currently debating whether to continue discussions on the revision of the Parliament Law (RUU SUSDUK DPR, DPD and DPRD) or delay it until after the establishment of the new House in September 2009.
The debate is a reflection of the problems that House members have to deal with: The need to reform their very own institution, on the one hand, and the difficulty of assembling House members to attend the debate session, on the other.
A commission chairman at the House complained recently about the difficulty of organizing a debate session due to the lack of participation from House members. A change in electoral legislation has forced House members to spend more time in their districts in the hopes of being elected again.
The low level of attendance has further exacerbated an image problem that the House as an institution has long suffered. Reportedly, out of 550 members, 119 did not attend the session in December last year.
The number of members who fail to show up to plenary session seems to increase as the date for the legislative elections draws closer. The lack of productivity in finishing the target of legislative products is another bad image of the House.
In 2005, out of 55 bills targeted, the House could only complete 14. In 2006, out of 43 bills targeted, only 39 were completed. Only in 2007 and 2008 could the House achieve its target of producing 40 and 64 legislative bills respectively. But the majority of bill approved by the House in 2007 and 2008 was mainly connected with regional division.
The current debate about the revision of the Parliament Law is regarded by many as the only opportunity for 2004-2009 House members to reform their institution. Members of a House working group assigned to produce a draft of reforming parliamentary institution have already completed their task. What should be the best way to reform and in what direction House reform should lead to is now available.
Majority members of Commission II and III have shown their eagerness to reform the House for the better. Discussions with the Home Ministry, which is responsible for drafting the revision of the Parliament Law, have started and show positive developments.
Everything seemed to be on the right track until the Constitutional Court issued an edict defining a new parameter in deciding winners in the general elections. Legislators regarded the edict as a severe blow that narrowed their window of opportunity to regain their seats in their electoral districts.
With no other alternative but to spend more time in electoral districts to convince their constituents amidst competition not only with candidates from other political parties, but also from colleagues of the same party in the same electoral district, legislators lost their eagerness to discuss parliamentary reform. They understand well that their political careers are at stake with the new system.
On the government’s side, the replacement of Sudarsono as director general of politics and national unity at the Home Ministry further complicates the debate about the future of reform. Though he is often regarded as ambitious and somewhat over-confident, his commitment to the importance of reforming the House is without doubt. His skill in legal drafting is unrivalled among many senior officials in the ministry. His departure has left a void in the ministry.
The uncertainty over whether the debate about the revision of the Parliament Law should be continued or delayed and the question about who is in charge on behalf of the government in discussing the law, have left many reform agendas unfinished. It is not clear whether the authority of the Regional Representatives Assembly (DPD) should be strengthened to allow regional aspirations to influence policy-making processes at the House. What about the Regional Legislatives Councils (DPRD), should they be regarded as autonomous parliaments or simply an extension of local government under the control of the Home Ministry? What about deepening the relationship between legislators and their electoral districts to strengthen the legitimacy of House members as genuine representatives of the people? All these problematic issues need to be answered in the upcoming revision of the Parliament Law.
The expectation that House members will commit to reforming their own institution is gradually diminishing as the date for the general elections gets closer. It is more likely that parliamentary reform will have to wait until the installment of new House members for the 2009-2014 period. Current House members seem to be losing their momentum.
The writer is a senior national adviser to the German Technical Cooperation Advisory Service Support for Decentralization (GTZ-ASSD) at the Home Ministry.