The Jakarta Post, 11 Mei 2009

Time to clarify the role of VP


Cecep Effendi and Saldi Isra

In his statement before a gathering of local Golkar Party leaders in Makassar recently, Vice President Jusuf Kalla admitted that on many occasions he had taken bold steps and made unpopular decisions. He said this was his duty and that making bold steps was something leaders were supposed to do.

Kalla also said that sometimes he took on a leading role in decision making though his decisions were not based on principles.

Coming from the vice president, statements of this kind can create constitutional problems. The problem is the way Jusuf Kalla defines his role as Vice President may be differ to how the President defines the role of his second in charge. The fact of the matter is, under the Indonesian Constitution the role of the vice president is the least defined position.

The 1945 Constitution only states that the VP role depends on assignments from the president. Chapter 4, article (2) of the 1945 Constitution simply states that in conducting their tasks, the president will be assisted by the vice president. Constitutional expert Jimmly Asshidiqie explains that the term "assist" in Chapter 4 Article (2) has similiar connotations to words used to describe the roles of ministers whose job is also to assist the president.

Due to this constitutional uncertainty, in practice the vice president tends to be marginalized by the president. Even the roles of senior ministers in many cases are far more prominent than that of the vice president. While the 1945 Constitution has been amended four times, chapter 4 article (2) has never been widely discussed by members of the People's Representative Assembly (MPR).

The process of recruitment used for both the president and vice president further complicates this issue. Based on a literal understanding of the Constitution, the drafters of Law No. 23/2003 on the Election of President/Vice President require that both the president and vice president be supported either by political parties or coalitions of political parties that have acquired at least 20 percent of valid votes in the previous parliamentary election. The same model was adopted by the drafters of Law No. 42/2009 on President/Vice President Election Law.

The implications of this requirement are serious. The president and vice president often must come from different political parties to make them eligible as candidates for the election. Politically, both have the same opportunity to win the elections since both are backed by strong political parties.

The problem lies in the fact that relations between the president and vice president are not defined clearly. The only legal source that helps us to define the relationship is the 1945 Constitution. However, as mentioned earlier, this fails to differentiate between the roles of the vice president and ministers in assisting the president. Until now, Indonesia has not had a Presidency Law to define the roles of the president and vice president.

Now is the time for constitutional experts to begin defining and enhancing the role of the vice president. Unless this role is clearly and legally defined, whatever combination of president and vice president we see after the coming elections - whether it's Jusuf Kalla and Wiranto, Megawati and Prabowo, or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Hatta Rajasa - problems may arise.

Cecep Effendi was a member of the drafting team for Presidential Election Law No 42/2009 and Presidential Election Law No. 23/2003 at the Home Ministry.

Saldi Isra is the chairman of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Andalas University, Padang, West Sumatra.