Indonesia parliament seeks to change rules to allow election delays

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s parliament plans to amend the constitution to allow elections to be delayed in the event of an emergency, a deputy speaker said on Wednesday, but any change would only be discussed after the scheduled 2024 vote.

Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, must hold national elections every five years, with the next vote scheduled for Feb. 14.

There are currently no rules for any delay.

But some of President Joko Widodo’s allies have publicly endorsed postponing the elections to extend the president’s second and final term to give him time to finish projects delayed by the COVID pandemic.

The issue of extending a president’s tenure has sparked lively debate in Indonesia, with critics fearing it could undo years of democratic reforms after the end of President Suharto’s authoritarian rule in 1998.

University of Indonesia election researcher Titi Anggraini said there was no urgency to propose the amendment and the speaker of the MPR upper house of parliament, Bambang Soesatyo, said it would be proposed only after the February election.

Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, has repeatedly denied that he is seeking to extend his term.

Bambang and other senior lawmakers met Jokowi on Wednesday to discuss the potential amendment, which will introduce rules to delay elections in the event of a war or a natural disaster, Yandri Susanto, a deputy speaker of the MPR who attended the meeting, told Reuters.

“We propose this so we have a regulation if the country is facing a certain situation where we cannot do any change of leadership,” Yandri said in a phone call. He stressed that the amendment would not be used to delay the February poll.

Yandri said Jokowi told lawmakers the decision on such an amendment was up to parliament.

The president’s office did not have an immediate comment.

In March, a Jakarta court stunned voters after it ordered a halt of more than two years to all election activity over a complaint from an obscure party whose application to run had been denied.

A higher court overturned the ruling a month later. The Supreme Court is currently reviewing the party’s appeal request.

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia; Editing by Gayatri Suroyo and Nick Macfie)