“Controversial Changes to Indonesia’s Law on Legislative Bodies Come into Effect” by Eve Warburton

2018/26, 16 March 2018

Revisions to Indonesia’s Law on Legislative Bodies (MD3) were first passed by parliament (DPR) on February 12th. President Jokowi mulled over whether or not to sign the new law. After a month of equivocation, he chose not to add his signature to the MD3. However in Indonesia, a bill passed by the parliament automatically becomes law after 30 days, regardless of whether it has the President’s formal stamp of approval.

The MD3 law is controversial, and many Indonesian analysts view the revisions as another moment in their country’s gradual democratic decline. Specifically, revised articles give the legislature (the DPR) new powers to take legal action against groups, individuals or institutions that it feels have insulted or defamed the parliament. The revisions will require law enforcement, such as the police or the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), to first consult with the parliament’s internal ethnics committee before investigating individual legislators. The DPR can now compel the police to forcibly bring individuals – such as governors, mayors, or members of the KPK – to appear before Parliament as part of any parliamentary enquiry.
In essence, the new MD3 law makes investigation and prosecution of legislators more complicated and difficult, and protects parliamentarians from public criticism they deem defamatory.

There’s been a lot of heated commentary in the Indonesian and international press over the last month on the proposed revisions to the law. Academics, political commentators, and activists have argued forcefully against the revisions, claiming the MD3 places parliament above the law, and prevents open debate and criticism of the country’s political leaders. National legislators are routinely embroiled in corruption scandals, and a critical media points regularly to the DPR’s abysmal record when it comes to doing its job – passing new legislation. Against this backdrop, the MD3 revisions constitute the latest attempt by an intransigent parliament to insulate itself from public censure and from the courts.

Since February, the law’s detractors have demanded President Jokowi intervene and overrule the revisions. Instead, Jokowi prevaricated. Spooked by the popular outcry, Jokowi tried to distance himself from the whole affair. He claimed he was unaware of the controversial articles and that his Minister for Justice and Human Rights never informed him of the bill’s details. But the President also refrained from openly condemning the revisions or taking any action to have the offending articles removed. Jokowi’s response has, not for the first time, left Indonesian analysts questioning their President’s commitment to the country’s democratic institutions.

Jokowi chose the path of least resistance: to sign would attract more public censure; but to veto the law would destabilise delicate deals and alliances between the parties in parliament. The President’s reticence, however, has consequences for the quality of Indonesia’s democracy, which is already in decline. In February the Economist Intelligence Unit released its annual report on the global state of democracy. Indonesia performed the worst of any country in the survey, dropping 20 places to 68th in the world, primarily due to a precipitous decline in the protection of minority rights. Revisions to the MD3 will once again draw international attention, and lead many to question the strength and trajectory of Indonesia’s democracy.

Eve Warburton is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesian Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.