Jakarta – The Constitutional Court's decision to allow high-ranking officials to remain in office despite their bid to run for election marks a further setback for democracy in the country.
Not so much because the ruling, which surely is in favor of the government, won unanimous support from a bench presided over by a chief justice who is also a brother-in-law of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, but due to its adverse impact on the much-vaunted campaign for good governance.
Thanks to the court, Cabinet ministers and other higher-ups in the government will not have to resign if they wish to run for public office in the elections in 2024 and beyond. They only need the President's permission to take leave while they are on the election trail.
President Jokowi said he would comply with the court's decision, but even before the court issued its ruling, he had insisted that top officials did not necessarily need to quit as then required by the 2017 Election Law.
Specifically, Article 170 of the law stipulated that public officials who were nominated by political parties or coalition of parties for presidential and vice presidential elections had to leave office.
A number of ministers within Jokowi's Cabinet have been touted as presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 2024 elections. They include Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, Coordinating Economics Minister Airlangga Hartarto, State-owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno. So far only Prabowo has announced his presidential bid.
Other ministers, especially those affiliated with political parties, may also contest the legislative election to be held simultaneously with the presidential race.
The mandatory resignation for government officials, military and police officers who wish to pursue political careers through elections was devised to avoid any conflict of interest and ensure clean and fair competitions. Even when the mechanism was in place abuses of power reportedly occurred here and there. We can imagine the level of rampancy of the misappropriation of authority, as well as state assets and facilities if mandatory resignation is no longer the norm.
Prior to the Reform Era in 1998, Cabinet ministers were permitted to run in elections without having to resign simply because they would act as vote getters. The ruling party at that time, Golkar, needed a majority vote to legitimize the New Order regime's grip on the country's political landscape.
With the government facing mounting challenges due to imminent global recession, Cabinet ministers who aspire for public office in 2024 may be unable to contribute to government responses. They may also put many of Jokowi's programs at stake, while he intends to leave a long-lasting legacy when he completes his term.
President Jokowi has promised to review the performance of his aides whose focus is divided between state duties and political ambitions. Rather than waiting until such possibilities arise, it would be better for Jokowi to remove the risk by dismissing any of his ministers who wish to contest the elections in 2024 or asking them to resign. After all the Constitution grants him the prerogative to hire and fire his ministers.
Let us hope Jokowi will follow his wisdom.