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Indonesia to elect president directly in future

©Associated Press
August 11, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- In a major expansion of democracy, Indonesia's top legislature amended the constitution Saturday to require direct presidential elections and end reserved parliament seats for the military.

Closing out its annual two-week session, the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly also turned back calls to impose Islamic-based law in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

The assembly's decision to abolish its role as an electoral college that picks the head of state is considered the most important government change since the 1960s, when Indonesia was shaken by political unrest.

All the measures endorsed Saturday were adopted by consensus rather than open ballot, after party leaders agreed no faction should be publicly seen to be defeated.

Since Dutch colonial rule ended after World War II, the assembly has elected the president for five-year terms. But legislators and prodemocracy groups have been pressing since 1998 for a direct vote by Indonesia's 210-million people.

Indonesia has a strong executive presidency, making Cabinet ministers responsible to the president rather than parliament and giving the president wide powers, including the right to regulate a wide range of matters by decree.

Gen. Suharto, who came to power in a military coup in 1966, abused the system by rigging six consecutive presidential ballots starting in 1971. He was ousted four years ago after widespread street protests.

The proposal adopted Saturday sets up a two-stage election for president, with a runoff required if no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's founding father, Sukarno, is the country's most popular politician and is expected to win re-election.

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