The Golkar Party has failed in its apparent attempt to keep chief justice Bagir Manan in office, after the House of Representatives decided to delay passing the Supreme Court bill this month amid mounting public resistance.

The delay means Bagir will have to retire on Oct. 6, 2008, when he turns 67, as stipulated in the prevailing Supreme Court law.

There has been growing suspicion among legislators that the country’s largest party was behind a bid for a House plenary session to be held this Friday to pass the much-criticized bill before Bagir retires next month at the age of 67.  The draft law proposes an extension of the retirement age of Bagir and seven other Supreme Court judges to 70 years. But most other major factions in the House rejected the immediate endorsement of the bill, following mounting opposition from community members, including former prominent justices.

“We haven’t finished discussions at the commission level, so we can’t stage a plenary meeting on Friday,” senior Golkar member and House Speaker Agung Laksono said after a meeting with the House consultative body on Thursday evening.

The House is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday for the Idul Fitri holidays, and will resume its activities on Oct. 6.Earlier on Thursday, legislators were baffled by the issuance of a letter from the House’s Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, requesting House leaders hold a snap plenary session on Friday to pass the bill.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Jakarta Post, was signed by Golkar legislator Aziz Syamsuddin — deputy chairman of Commission III, which deliberated the bill to revise the 1985 Supreme Court law.

“Commission III has finished discussing the revision of the Supreme Court law. That’s why we ask for the scheduling of a plenary meeting on Friday,” the letter read.

The letter bypassed four other commission leaders, including chairman Trimedya Pandjaitan from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) — the bill’s main opponent.

The letter also drew protests from other major factions.

“We smell something wrong here. Some commission members worked like dogs day and night to complete the deliberations, yet there is no urgency at all to finish it before Idul Fitri,” PDI-P legislator Ganjar Pranowo said.

“We demand that the public be involved in the debates before we pass the bill.”

Nasir Jamil of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Lukman Hakim Saifuddin of the United Development Party (PPP) expressed similar concerns.

“The rushed deliberations will send another bad signal to the public. We must make it as transparent as possible to avoid allegations of wrongdoing,” Nasir said.

A legislator involved in the bill’s deliberations said there was a “grand design” to pass the bill this week, accusing Agung Laksono of being behind the rushed deliberations of the bill to let Bagir stay in office for another three years.

Bagir has long been affiliated with Golkar, his bid to head the Supreme Court in 2001 receiving the full support of the party. Critics allege this move was designed to have then Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung acquitted of corruption charges by the court under Bagir’s leadership.

Some observers suggest there is a conflict of interest between certain parties and the government in retaining Bagir as chief justice.

With many legislators and other senior officials being convicted or charged in graft probes by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), keeping Bagir in office would mean decisions by the Supreme Court could be arranged or traded.

“From the very beginning, we knew the hasty revision of the bill was politically motivated,” said Emerson Yuntho of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW).

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