New Indonesia Parliament members take oath amid protests

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Indonesia’s Parliament was sworn in yesterday for a new session that comes amid sometimes violent protests against several new or proposed laws, including one that critics said has crippled the country’s anti-corruption agency.

Security was especially tight in the capital, Jakarta, where authorities blocked streets leading to the Parliament building and 24,000 soldiers and police were deployed to secure key locations, including the presidential palace.

Yesterday’s ceremony included 575 lawmakers from nine political parties. The lawmakers will be under immediate pressure to revisit the legislation, including a proposed new criminal code as well as bills on mining, land and labour.

Indonesians went to the polls in April to vote for president, members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and provincial and regional legislative councils.

President Joko Widodo won a second five-year term and he and his allies control more than 65 per cent of seats in the House, a stronger advantage than he had during his first term.

The ongoing protests and the legislation that sparked them, however, could also threaten Widodo’s credibility after he campaigned on a platform of clean governance.

Indonesian Parliament members read their oath during their swearing-in ceremony in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTOS: AP
Protester clash with police officers during a clash in Jakarta, Indonesia

Protesters are enraged that the country’s outgoing Parliament passed a law last month that reduces the authority of the Corruption Eradication Commission, a key body in fighting endemic graft in the country and one of the nation’s most trusted institutions.

They also demanded the new lawmakers to change parts of the proposed new criminal code that would criminalise criticism of the President and criminalise or increase penalties on a variety of sexual activities.

Critics said the bill contains articles that curtail freedom of expression and association.

The protesters are demanding Widodo issue a regulation replacing the new law on the corruption commission. Widodo said last week he was considering revoking the law, but the idea was immediately opposed by members of his coalition.

Activists said the revision weakens the powers of one of the most credible public institutions in a country where police and politicians are perceived as being widely corrupt.

Hundreds of officials from various branches of government have been arrested since the independent anti-graft commission was established in 2002 as part of people’s demands during a reform movement following the ouster of the country’s longtime strongman leader Suharto in 1998.