MPR Speaker Bambang Soesatyo: President Remains as the People’s Mandatary
THROUGHOUT last week, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Bambang Soesatyo was in charge of delivering invitations.
TOGETHER with nine MPR deputy speakers, he visited national political figures including Megawati Sukarnoputri, Jusuf Kalla, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; inviting them to the inauguration of President Joko Widodo and Vice President Ma’ruf Amin at the MPR-DPR building, set for this Sunday, October 20. During those visits, Bambang and friends asked for inputs from the former presidents and vice presidents about the planned amendment to the 1945 Constitution.
Over the last two months, the discourse to have a fifth amendment has been the talk of the nation. There are different points suggested to change. Some mentioned the need for Indonesia to return to the initial version of the 1945 Constitution, others asked for a rearrangement of the State Policy Guidelines (GBHN), and then there were also suggestions of extending the presidential term. Bambang, elected as MPR Speaker on October 4, said that he welcomes all suggestions for the Assembly to deliberate on. “We are aware that the implications are extraordinary. If it’s wrong, there won’t be a judicial review,” Bambang said in a special interview with Tempo.
Bambang (57) chose Megawati as the first person to refer to, because the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairperson was the last president who sat in office during the fourth amendment in 2002. Also, it was the PDI-P that first suggested amending the constitution—according to the results of the party’s congress as in August this year.
Before visiting Prabowo Subianto on October 11, Bambang met with Tempo reporters Stefanus Pramono, Reza Maulana, Aisha Shaidra, and Dewi Nurita at his office in the MPR-DPR complex. He told Tempo that the constitution’s amendment would not become a ‘wild ball’, and be used to eliminate direct presidential elections. “That’s why we use a very verbal term: limited amendments,” said the former House of Representatives (DPR) speaker.
What’s the urgency to have a fifth amendment to the 1945 Constitution?
I am only the person who inherited a recommendation from the previous period of the (2014-2019) MPR. This has been the homework of the 2009-2014 MPR, which was then passed on to the 2014-2019, and then to us. We have to follow up.
How is the MPR following it up?
We do not want to rush things. We must be careful. We are being transparent to the public, accepting input from various community groups, retired army officers—everyone. Later, we will also invite student representatives to find out what their wishes for Indonesia are. They are the owners of this nation in the next 20 or 30 years. Many voices are growing, so we must summarize the voices of the people of Indonesia. What is the form? That is what we are working on.
We will open rooms for public discussion as wide as possible to accommodate people’s aspirations. We are well aware of the extraordinary implications. We cannot make mistakes as the constitution cannot undergo judicial reviews like laws do. So we are being very careful. We want the results of this amendment to have zero complaint.
When is the target for completing the amendment discussion?
There is no target. We’re not a bus that has to meet certain fare targets (laughs). Maybe it won’t be finished in the next year or two. During these early stages, we will receive inputs in order to follow up on recommendations.
What are the recommendations you have received?
There are two recommendation options related to the need to bring back the GBHN. Some via the MPR through amendments, some by means of a law. We put everything on the table. We will offer them to the people and see what the tone is like. That is what we will do, since this is the people’s decision.
Was your visit to Megawati Soekarnoputri an effort to obtain input as well?
Yes. Ibu Mega had run the last constitutional amendment, issued in 2002, during the last two years of her term in office. She was also the last president who became the mandatary of the MPR. We asked her to give us insights about what is still lacking in the current constitution.
What did she recommend?
From this meeting, I could see that Ibu Mega was quite anxious about our country’s development direction. The emphasis is on the economy. She was very restless and said something along the lines of, “Why is that, from the president to the regent and mayor, every time someone new is elected, there has to be a new policy? Because of ego, so the good policies of their predecessors are no longer used or discontinued. The fact is, almost all countries have a development direction that lasts even up to the next hundred years. Thus, even though the leaders change, the direction of development remains the same.”
She mentioned China as an example, about how it has mock-ups of large cities for several decades into the future. Also Singapore, which has a direction of development for the next hundred years.
In practice, China and Singapore’s parliaments are controlled by a single party, in contrast to Indonesia with its multi-party parliament.
That is why we need the expertise of all parties to summarize all voices and turn them into one direction.
Can the MPR do that?
Yesterday, during the election of the MPR speaker, we were able to achieve a consensus from the deliberation of 10 parties. The important thing to convey the purpose clearly. In the end, it is about giving the maximum benefit for the people’s interest. No one can refuse the interests of the people. For example, Pak Jokowi focuses on infrastructure development. But his successor could say infrastructure is not important, and then neglect it. And so, we must have blueprints and roadmaps for our development in the next 50 years. Ibu Mega praised Ibu Risma (Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini). “If her successor cannot continue her programs, or focus on other programs—what she has done, everything will go back to zero again.”
Would that be stipulated in the GBHN?
The name does not have to be GBHN. It can be called a development blueprint or whatever.
So the president would have to adhere to the MPR’s decisions?
Not just the president. The governors, regents and mayors would also have to follow the direction of development. The direction there is, the wishes of the Indonesian people, brought by the MPR.
Was your talk with Megawati centered on the economy only?
She also briefly mentioned the issue of regional autonomy, special autonomy. But only slightly touched on that. In terms of politics, we have agreed that Indonesia is a democratic country. The issue of direct presidential election was not mentioned at all. The president’s term of two times five years in office was also not mentioned.
With an obligation to comply with the GBHN, does that mean that the president’s status would be as it was before? As a mandatary of the MPR?
Please do not interpret this too narrowly. A mandatary means that he has accountability to the MPR. The President remains as the people’s mandate. Accountability and supervision to the DPR. The MPR only gave directions. The government may run any program, in accordance with the promises made during the presidential campaign—but the direction is clear. Like Google Maps, we only determine the point of destination, it is up to the government to decide the way there.
How would the MPR ensure that the government does not deviate from the destination?
Supervision exists at every level. Just like now, the government is carrying out development through the State Budget. The supervision is through the DPR, Regional Legislative Council (DPRD) I, and DPRD II. From the MPR, we are looking for the formula again.
What is wrong with the National Long-Term Development Plan (RPJPN) of 20 years, and the National Medium-Term Development Plan of five years, that it is necessary to bring back the GBHN?
I don’t know. In your opinion, is the direction of development in the RPJPN clear? Since I am taking in aspirations.
Do you personally agree with having an amendment?
I agree with whatever is the joint decision. Isn’t my answer cool? (Laughing)
That’s a very vague answer
I have to give a vague answer. Because whatever my answer is, it relates to my position. It cannot be separated from personal answers.
Isn’t reinstating the GBHN prone to putting a rein on decentralization, which was the result of reformasi?
This is also to suppress the wrong direction of decentralization. Decentralization is defined as division. Fortunately, we now have a moratorium. If we have autonomous districts and provinces everywhere, what’s the difference between us and the federal state? We are a Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. There has to be only one master book. It may not be as detailed as in China and Singapore, but there is an outline and a direction.
Would the GBHN be included in the MPR decree?
Well, we just started planning. We only met once. You’re asking too soon (laughs).
Could it be in the form of a law, so there is no need for an amendment?
I do not know, it depends on the dynamics. Politics is full of dynamics. If we get it wrong, we could be protested against.
Amendments can be an entry point for other interests, for example eliminating the direct presidential elections, since the president would be appointed by the MPR.
That is why our term is verbatim: limited amendments. We cannot be entered by other matters of discussion. That is, if we do decide to make an amendment. At the moment, it is still uncertain. There is a possibility that there would not be an amendment.
Including the Regional Representative Council’s (DPD) proposal for reinforcing institutions?
That is a possibility, if it is agreed upon. But it can also be not agreed upon.
Isn’t Golkar, your party, against having an amendment?
That is wrong. Golkar’s stance is if it can be resolved by law, we will do it by law. We always coordinate, but so far we have not discussed too far into this. We only have recommendations and how to react to them. There’s no detailed discussions yet.
What is your party’s stance right now?
Everyone is listening to inputs from all layers. Pak Try Sutrisno (Vice President 1993-1998), for example, said there is a need to return to the original version of the 1945 Constitution. That means our political system would be changed completely. I personally, as well as Golkar, actually want our presidential system to be reinforced. Amendments should be able to restore presidential power.
In what ways?
For example, is there still a need for a fit-and-proper test at the DPR for the National Police chief and other institutions’ head appointed by the president? In the past, the president had such huge power. After the reformasi, some of that power was taken away and given to the DPR. For example: due diligence. With today’s increasingly transparent democracy, is it still needed? I am in a position where I want to strengthen the presidential system.
It seems that such desire is contrary to the PDI-P as the owner of the most votes in the MPR.
The PDI-P wants to bring back the GBHN only. Is it not enough (to do so) by creating a law? It could (be done) by law, if the law binds all the people of Indonesia. Binding the president, governors, mayors, regents in the next five, 20, to 50 years, why not? No need to use amendments.
Why didn’t the fifth amendment happen during the two previous MPR periods?
I have not read about that. What’s certain is that the 2009-2014 MPR reviewed and recommended its successors to have another review. Then, the 2014-2019 MPR reviewed it and requested the 2019-2024 MPR to also review the recommendation. Perhaps it is the MPR’s duty to review? (Laughs)
So, it does not matter if until the end of your term the amendment is not issued?
That is a possibility. Depending on the people’s wishes.
But the PDI-P Faction seems to have made the amendment as their work target.
Their chairperson sees this as the most urgent matter. The leader’s anxiety usually spreads downward. They have the same rhythm. This is what the PDI-P Faction shows.
Are they intensely lobbying you?
I don’t know. I have not been lobbied. There is no lobby. See, we work together. We, the leaders of the MPR, always get together. Yesterday, at the first meeting, we agreed to reach a unanimous decision based on consensus agreement. I don’t want to establish a tradition of voting in the DPR, which, to quote Ibu Mega, is not an Indonesian tradition.
What was discussed during the meeting at the Fairmont Hotel, Senayan on Thursday, October 3?
I invited faction representatives to have lunch, to obtain a similar perception in view of the MPR speaker’s election. Everyone was there, including Gerindra. Everyone gave their support, except the DPD, who said they will have a meeting about it. Gerindra said that they continue to support Pak Muzani (Gerindra Party Secretary-General Ahmad Muzani).
We got information that Ahmad Basarah from the PDI-P mentioned the amendment during that meeting.
He expressed his view as a PDI-P Faction member that they have their agendas and recommendations that we must carry out. I told him that, regarding the amendment, I need to have two or three years to seek aspirations first. No need to rush. That’s why we formed the State Administration Study Board. All parties are there.
Would the chief be from PDI-P?
No. The system is to rotate (the leaders).
MPR Speaker Bambang Soesatyo (left) and Former President Megawati Soekarnoputri after the meeting at the latter’s house./TEMPO/M Taufan Rengganis
How did you get elected as MPR Speaker, while in the party you were at odds with Golkar Party Chairman Airlangga Hartarto?
Not at odds. That’s how people see it because I once ran for (the party’s) chairman. There are no hard feelings, nothing personal. I ran (for office), and he was okay with it. He arranged his troops, I also gathered mine. On the way, there was a need to fill the leadership seat of the MPR. There were a number of names offered as candidates to other factions, but perhaps they did not get enough response.
Will you still run for Golkar chairman?
All Golkar cadres are allowed to become chairman, including me. I am just waiting for the moment, whether the national conference would be that time.
So, will you run or not?
All cadres must have that desire. We also encourage anyone, with the ability, to run for office. The more figures emerging as chairman, the better.
Can we assume that answer as a ‘yes’?
Let this be a secret between me and Airlangga. Only God knows.
Place, date of birth: Jakarta, 10 September 1962 | Political parties: Golkar Party | Education, among others: Jayabaya Academy of Accounting, Jakarta (1985), Corporate Management at the Indonesian College of Economics, Jakarta (1992), Master of Business Administration at Newport Indonesia Institute of Management (1990) | Careers, among others: Reporter at Vista magazine (1989-1992), Editor in Chief at Info Business magazine (1991-2007), Editor in Chief at Suara Karya Daily (2004-2006), Independent Director of PT SIMA Tbk (2006-2013), Director of Kodeco Timber (2007-2013) | Legislative career: DPR member (2009-2018), DPR Speaker (2018-2019), MPR Speaker (2019-2024)