The inauguration of new members of Indonesian House of Representatives in Jakarta on 1 October 2014 / Photo: Liputan6

House of Indonesia quietly passed a law amendment to suppress criticism to politicians

A controversial and unpublished law amendment was passed by the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia (DPR-RI) in the third week of February 2018.

DPR-RI silently passed the revision on the Law of Representative Assemblies, known as the MD3 law. If this amendment comes into effect, criticism of Indonesian politicians will be deterred and accountability of the politicians will not be questioned.

The amendment will allow representatives of the council to prosecute those who disparage members’ honour’, and stipulating that the investigation of the council members must be approved by Mahkamah Kehormatan Dewan (MKD, the House Ethics Council).

The amendments to the MD3 Law are still in the hands of the Indonesian President, Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. In his post on Twitter on 21 Feb, Jokowi wrote, ” The draft of the MD3 Law is on my desk, but I have not signed it yet. I understand the unrest in society about this. We all want the quality of our democracy to increase, not to decrease.”

Allegedly, the main target of this amendment is the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK).

The amendment was supported by eight political parties, including the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which is the party of President Jokowi. Members of PDI-P have been openly pushing for a fast process for MD3 for months. Voice of America last month reported that PDIP could not be reached for comment.

The United Development Party (PPP) and the Democratic National Party (NasDem) protested the proposal with a walkout, but they were outvoted.

Andreas Harsono, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Jakarta stated that the Indonesian House of Representatives is one of the most unreliable state institutions; passing such a repressive law would create more problems in Indonesia.

An online petition against the amendment, from the Indonesian Corruption Watch and the Association for Elections and Democracy, has collected more than 170,000 signatures, but this amendment may only be undone by the Constitutional Court’s decision.

The Forum on Law and Constitutional Studies (FKHK) has also petitioned against the MD3 Act to the Constitutional Court, arguing that articles such as forced summoning of citizens are inconsistent with the Indonesian Constitution.

John Sulaiman, a defense lecturer at the University of General Achmad Yani said, “The main way to oppose this action is through the Constitutional Court, but I am not sure how much the Constitutional Court is willing to stop this, because this law has wide support among all parties.”

“In addition, we will enter the election year and they may not want to disrupt the situation,” he added.

Sulaiman also said, the House of Representatives has been increasingly agitated because of pressure from the KPK, which made a major achievement last year, by arresting the corrupt DPR Chairman Setya Novanto (he was involved in at least eight different cases) into the KPK.

“It is difficult to say who will be the exact target,” said Sulaiman, although the KPK looks like a major opponent. “This law is very ambiguous, with a typical Indonesian style.”

Ian Wilson, a political researcher at Murdoch University in Australia commented, “The MD3 Act is quite remarkable in terms of granting powers to the House of Representatives, comparable to – and even beyond – the judiciary; sort of a parallel system.”

“The justification given that this is meant to protect the parliament’s good name from inappropriate humiliation is extremely unreasonable in the current political climate, and will undoubtedly increase public perception of the House as an institution of self-interest,” Wilson said.

Sindonews reported, Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, the Chairman of the House Ethics Council (MKD) gave one example of a statement that can be snared with one of the articles in the amendment. Article 122 establishes that MKD may take legal steps and/or other measures against individuals, groups of persons, or legal entities that undermine the honor of the council and members of the People’s Legislative Assembly.

“Someone once said that all the House of Representatives members are robbers, thieves, while in fact not all of them; that’s what we think is weakening the House respectability.” said Dasco Ahmad, adding that constructive criticism is not to be snared with the article.

“If it’s a constructive criticism then it’s alright,” said the politician from the Gerindra Party.

He admitted that at present many people criticize the House. “The scientific criticism is nothing, we think it’s a process of democracy, we have never reported them, despite that with Article 119 (article in the old MD3 Act) it is enough for MKD to do it,” he added.

Indonesian journalists also expressed disappointment over the amendment, which would further reduce their already restricted press freedom.

Abdul Manan, chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists said, “The subjective nature of the composition of the words can make journalists easily trapped while doing their work, and the law can be another tool to suppress or intimidate the press.”