- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia In a major expansion of democracy, Indonesia's top legislature amended the constitution yesterday 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 own role as an electoral college that picks the head of state is considered one of the most important government changes since the 1960s, when Indonesia was shaken by political unrest.

When Speaker Amien Rais asked the delegates to agree on a direct presidential ballot beginning with the 2004 election, they chorused, "Agreed."

All the measures endorsed yesterday 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 pro-democracy 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 yesterday 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 is expected to easily win re-election.

Legislators also reached consensus on speeding up the abolition of 38 unelected parliament seats reserved under Suharto for the security forces. The seats will end in 2004, rather than in 2009 as previously planned.

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