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Law of the jungle

Jakarta Post Editorial - June 7, 2024

Jakarta – It is with deep concern and alarm that we mourn the state of our judicial system during this most political of years.

Last week's Supreme Court ruling, which introduced a technicality in the age requirements for candidates running in the regional head elections, shows that dynastic politics, while ever pervasive across the country, has simply gone too far.

In this new normal cemented by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's yearning for continuity in his nation-building project, we are beguiled to accept that the ends ultimately justify the means.

And in order to build generational wealth in Indonesia, the most straightforward route to take is to accumulate power and manipulate its levers for personal gain.

Unfortunately, it seems that everything has a price tag nowadays, including state institutions that are supposed to deliver and uphold justice for all.

The Supreme Court scandal is just the latest stain on Indonesia's poor showing in judicial reform, with the rule of law slowly transforming into "the law of the ruler".

In entertaining a petition from an obscure party with known links to the pro-government coalition, the top court took just three days to approve changes to prevailing age requirements; candidates for the gubernatorial elections must now be 30 years of age once they are inaugurated, rather than when their nomination is first confirmed by the General Elections Commission (KPU), as previously.

While we are all for the lowering of age requirements to limit discrimination based on age, gender, faith or political affiliation or experience, the court's decision signals to any political dynasty that the rules can be broken for them.

Last year, the Constitutional Court, then led by Jokowi's brother-in-law Anwar Usman, changed the age limits for candidates in the Elections Law to allow Jokowi's eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to run for vice president.

Once again, the game appeared rigged to give certain players the upper hand.

The Supreme Court decision is to some degree even more egregious than the controversial Constitutional Court ruling, given the notoriety of the attendant institution and the opportunity the elections afford to budding nepotists.

First of all, it violates the Purcell principle, whereby changes to any rules in a contest should be made only when the stakes are low to ensure fairness. Enforcing changes in a game already afoot not only risks giving certain parties an unfair advantage, it also severely undermines the spirit of justice and probity.

Whatever excuse politicians come up with, it is becoming increasingly hard to dispute that there is one clear beneficiary of the current changes: Jokowi's youngest son Kaesang Pangarep, or rather, all the political brethren he represents.

The ruling is also full of hubris, overstepping the boundaries of fair competition in an election by assuming that eligible election candidates can plan to be inaugurated before they even begin the contest.

It certainly does not help that the decision was made by the controversy-ridden Supreme Court, given the legal saga involving former justices Gazalba Saleh and Sudradjad Dimyati, among the first in the nation's history to be brought down by corruption charges.

The court thereupon set another low bar. There are suddenly two versions of the court ruling to contend with, which is a disgrace and just goes to show how intent it is on creating diversions rather than delivering justice.

No investor will take a chance on Indonesia with such glaring legal uncertainty. Perhaps it is true that Indonesia's rule of law, as some governance experts have begun to say, is now more than ever closer to the law of the jungle, a society where only the rich can ascend the greasy pole.

The only way out available to the public right now is to vote in the November elections using their conscience. If you don't want dynastic politics, vote them out.

For all the feudalistic patronage that this country is built on, we have only come this far due to democratic reforms and a commitment to building together (gotong-royong).

There is too much at risk if we allow the future of the country to be dictated by the narrow interests of the few.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/06/07/law-of-the-jungle.htm