New Parliament elects Indonesia's first female House speaker

Indonesia's new Parliament has elected the country's first female speaker of the House of Representatives after being sworn in Tuesday amid sometimes-violent protests against several new or proposed laws

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's new Parliament elected the country's first female speaker of the House of Representatives after being sworn in Tuesday amid sometimes-violent protests against several new or proposed laws, including one that weakens the country's anti-corruption agency.

Puan Maharani, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the largest party in Parliament known by its Indonesian initials PDIP, was unanimously elected House speaker.

The 46-year-old politician has served as coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs in President Joko Widodo's Cabinet since 2014. She is the daughter of former President and current PDIP leader Megawati Soekarnoputri, and a granddaughter of Indonesian founding President Sukarno.

Tuesday's ceremony included 575 lawmakers from nine political parties. The lawmakers will be under immediate pressure to revisit the controversial legislation, including a proposed new criminal code as well as bills on mining, land and labor.

Security was especially tight in the capital, Jakarta, where authorities blocked streets leading to the Parliament building, and 24,000 police and soldiers were deployed to secure key locations, including the presidential palace.

However, demonstrations were largely peaceful in Jakarta, where about a thousand university students gave flowers to several riot police and marines. They also tossed flower petals into a mock grave bearing the names of two student protesters who died in violent clashes in Kendari city on Sulawesi island last week.

Indonesians went to the polls in April to vote for the president, members of Parliament, and provincial and regional legislative councils. Widodo won a second five-year term, and he and his allies control more than 65% of the seats in the House, more than during his first term.

The ongoing protests and the legislation that sparked them, however, could threaten Widodo's credibility after he campaigned on a platform of clean governance.

Protesters are enraged that the outgoing Parliament passed a law last month that reduces the authority of the Corruption Eradication Commission, a key body in fighting endemic graft in the country and one of the nation's most trusted institutions.

They also demanded that the new lawmakers change parts of a proposed new criminal code that would criminalize criticism of the president and criminalize or increase penalties for a variety of sexual activities. Critics say the bill violates the rights of women, religious minorities, lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people and curtails freedom of expression and association.

The planned revisions prompted Australia to update its travel advice to Bali, warning tourists of risks they could face from extramarital or gay sex if the bill were passed.

The protesters are demanding Widodo issue a regulation replacing the law on the corruption commission. Widodo said last week he was considering revoking the law, but the idea was immediately opposed by members of his coalition.

Activists say the revision weakens the powers of one of the most credible public institutions in a country where police and politicians are perceived as being widely corrupt.

Hundreds of officials from various branches of government have been arrested since the independent anti-graft commission was established in 2002 as part of people's demands during a reform movement following the ouster of the country's longtime strongman leader Suharto in 1998.