Indonesia president rejects end to direct votes, relaxing term limit

FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attends an ASEAN leaders summit with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in Bangkok, Thailand November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected on Monday proposals by some politicians and a Muslim group to amend the constitution to end direct elections for the presidency and relax term limits in the world's third-biggest democracy.

Widodo, who won a second five-year term in April, his last under current rules, said in a Twitter message his "position was clear in disagreeing with a three-term presidency".

Separately, he told reporters that discussions on the amendment had referred to plans for an eight-year, one-term presidency or three terms of up to 15 years in total.

"It's better not to amend," he said.

Indonesian activists have warned the proposals would mark a setback for democracy, restored after the 1998 overthrow of dictator Suharto, who had ruled for more than 30 years.

Some politicians, including from Widodo's own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), and coalition partners, have called for the reinstatement of a Suharto-era set of national development goals known as the Broad Guidelines of State Policy.

Under the Broad Guidelines, a People's Consultative Assembly, or MPR -- then stacked with army officials and Suharto supporters -- picked the president.

"I'm a product of the post-reform constitution," Widodo also said in his tweet. The former furniture salesman and small town mayor is the first Indonesian president from outside the country's political and military elite.

Since the return to democracy, the constitution has been amended four times, to separate legislative and executive powers, decentralise the government, directly elect presidents and limit leaders to two terms.

Hendrawan Supratikno, a PDI-P lawmaker, said his party rejects the idea of ending direct election of the president, but is in favour of reinstating the Broad Guidelines.

Last week, Indonesia's largest mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) suggested the idea of having the MPR elect the president, according to its website.

Titi Anggraini, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy, welcomed Widodo's rejection, saying the proposals had not been explained properly to the public.

"The president should make sure that these coalition parties are in line with his stance," Anggraini said. "This could be a solidity test on Widodo's political attitude."

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Ed Davies and Catherine Evans)

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