January 20, 2015 / 8:49 AM / in 4 years

In victory for Widodo, Indonesia parliament backs direct regional vote

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s opposition-dominated parliament on Tuesday approved direct elections for governors and mayors, overturning legislation passed in September and handing a political victory to President Joko Widodo.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo walks after Friday prayers at the Presidential palace in Jakarta, October 24, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A divided parliament in September gave legislative assemblies the power to choose regional leaders, ending nearly a decade of direct elections.

The measure was quickly criticized by civil society groups, Widodo and former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as a step backwards for the world’s third-largest democracy.

Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party threatened to leave the opposition if coalition members did not sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to overturn the legislation.

The measure was reversed in a unanimous vote.

“We support the views of the Democratic Party and in politics it’s important to find a midpoint,” said Aryo Djojohadikusumo, lawmaker for the Gerindra opposition party.

“The midpoint in this case was supporting the MOU on direct regional elections.”

Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example.

But direct elections in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, have also proven to be costly and in many cases, corrupt.

Tuesday’s reversal exposed the opposition’s struggle to maintain its majority coalition, which many initially feared would be strong enough to obstruct Widodo’s reform agenda and lead to political gridlock.

Golkar, for example, was in upheaval as rogue members in Indonesia’s second-largest political party tried to overthrow chairman and tycoon Aburizal Bakrie.

As the opposition struggles to stick together, Widodo has slashed fuel subsidies and implemented other major reforms with little political resistance.

Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Macfie

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