10/01/2014, 00.00
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Temporary veto for bill that abolishes direct election of governor and mayor

by Mathias Hariyadi
Indonesia's outgoing president temporarily vetoes controversial bill approved by parliament last week. President-elect Widodo, who has already criticised the law, will now have to solve the controversy with his own means. Some political groups want to keep in check democracy.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - On his last days as president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has exercised his constitutional prerogatives and vetoed a bill that would have abolished the direct election of regional governors and city mayors.

At the end of a ten-hour debate last week, 226 members of Indonesia's outgoing parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the current law, which provides for the "direct" election of regional governors, district chiefs and mayors.

Parliament's decision angered activists, civil society groups, as well as ordinary citizens and even president-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who called it a "huge step backward" for the country's democracy.

For his part, President Yudhoyono came under fire for not intervening in the parliamentary debate that led to the approval of the new law, the brainchild of controversial Minister of Interior Gamawan Fauzi.

The bill passed because MPs from President Yudhoyono's own Democratic Party of Indonesia (DPI) did not to take part in the vote. Although opposed in principle to the amendment, the DPI's action allow the bill to go through.

The Assembly's move has angered activists and civil society groups, which have long been protesting against the controversial and highly slanted bill.

For critics the amendment to the election law is a blow to Indonesia's process of democratisation that began with the  fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, after three decades of authoritarian rule.

After days of fierce debates and street protests, President Yudhoyono expressed his deep regrets for the bill's adoption during his trip to the United States for the UN summit in New York.

Last night he decided to use his constitutional power and issued a so-called 'Government regulation replacing a law' (Peraturan Pemerintah Pengganti Undang-Undang or Perpu).

Yudhoyono decided to use his authority against the controversial bill following consultations with members of the DPI caucus. The new parliament is expected to take office today after the official swearing in ceremony. However, his veto will last only for the 20 remaining days of his term of office.

His successor, Widodo, is certainly expected to do the same, which is likely to cause controversy since some of the country's political groups (Islamists and conservatives) are already lukewarm at the idea of the former Jakarta governor being president.

In view of the situation, the white-and-red coalition (which backed former general and defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto) has also proposed to go back to the old electoral law for presidential election whereby both the president and the vice president would be chosen by parliament, and not the people.

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