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Crowd pleaser: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right), Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Said Agil Siroj (center) and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono (far right) greet participants at the NU’s national meeting in Cirebon, West Java, on Monday. (JP)
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday that he would consider adopting recommendations made by the country’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), including those advocating the death penalty for graft convicts and a boycott on taxes.
The recommendations were the results of NU’s national conference held at the Ma’had Tarbiyatul Mubtadiin Islamic boarding school in Kempek, Cirebon, West Java.
NU also recommended that the government revert to the New-Order-style indirect elections for local leaders.
“I believe that the recommendations reflect NU’s concerns regarding the problems faced by Indonesia and the world. I appreciate and welcome their input. The government will study and follow up, although we have different perceptions with regards to some of the recommendations,” said Yudhoyono in his address at the meeting’s close.
Although Yudhoyono did not go into details about what he meant by “different perceptions”, many believe that he was referring to the tax boycott and a return to an indirect election system.
NU chairman Said Aqil Siroj said the tax boycott proposal was actually meant to push the government to implement bolder initiatives to curb corruption in the taxation sector.
“On the tax issue, I believe NU is concerned with the fact that taxation is the state’s main income. This year’s state budget is more than Rp 1,600 trillion [US$169.1 billion], 70 percent of which comes from taxes,” Yudhoyono said.
NU’s suggestions that the government review direct elections is based on the fact that local elections have been riddled with money politics and horizontal conflicts.
“Indirect elections would not automatically eliminate the potential of money politics. [The extent of] money politics in direct elections, however, degrades the morality of millions of Indonesians, while in indirect elections, the morals of only 50 or 100 councilors are at stake,” said Malik Madaniy, an NU cleric.
Yudhoyono remained non-committal about the election proposal.
“The government has adopted decentralization and a system of regional autonomy. But, the recommendation appears relevant and contextual,” he said.
Yudhoyono also hinted that he would approve the NU’s recommendation to revert to the original, pre-amended version of the 1945 Constitution.
“Any proposal to make further amendments to the Constitution must be based on strong reasoning and a sense of urgency. The voice of the people must also be heard, but any amendments must be consistent with the spirit of this nation’s founding fathers,” the President said.
Yudhoyono then called on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) to study the NU’s recommendation to amend the Constitution.
The MPR is the country’s highest institution with the power to recommend constitutional amendments.
Since the fall of the New Order regime, the Constitution has been amended four times: in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Meanwhile, critics have lambasted the NU proposal for a tax boycott.
These critics, which include activists and politicians, expressed sympathy for the NU’s sense of indignation toward the government. They said they understood the reasoning behind the group’s proposal, in light of the government’s inability to deal with constantly increasing levels of corruption.
Teten Masduki, secretary-general of Transparency International Indonesia, said the government would face serious problems if citizens collectively refused to pay their share of taxes.
“Seventy percent of the state budget comes from taxes. How can we get things done without this money?” Teten asked.
Others criticized the NU’s proposal from a legal point of view.
“All citizens are obligated to obey existing laws, including paying taxes,” Muhammadiyah secretary Abdul Muti told The Jakarta Post on Monday. “And tax boycotts are violations of the law.” (png)