Sebastian Strangio – Indonesia's Constitutional Court has set up a panel to investigate accusations of bias and nepotism against itself, after a court ruling that allowed President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's son to run in next year's election.
On the weekend, Jokowi's 36-year-old son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, was announced as the running-mate of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who currently leads public opinion polls ahead of the February 14 presidential contest.
However, the only reason that Gibran has been allowed to run – he is under the legal minimum age of 40 for presidential and vice-presidential candidates – was a Constitutional Court ruling last week that carved out an exception for candidates who have held elected office at the regional level. In 2020, Gibran was elected the mayor of Surakarta, a post once held by his father.
The ruling has raised fears that Jokowi is using patronage and nepotism to ensure the continuity of his power after his second and final term comes to an end in October 2024, and to shape the future trajectory of Indonesian politics. Jokowi has denied any intention of founding a political dynasty, stating that "we should not interfere in our children's decisions."
Indonesian activists and legal experts subsequently filed a number of complaints with the Court, effectively accusing its nine judges of issuing a politically motivated ruling to benefit Jokowi's son.
Enny Nurbaningsih, a judge and spokesperson for the Constitutional Court, said that the body had received seven complaints, alleging a suspected "ethical violation" in connection with last week's ruling, as Reuters reported. She said the court had set up an ethics council to examine the complaints.
"We leave this matter to the council. We will not intervene," she told a press conference late on Monday.
Critics have focused on the fact that the court's chief judge, Anwar Usman, is Jokowi's brother-in-law and Gibran's uncle. BenarNews reports that while Anwar has recused himself from similar past cases over personal and family interest conflicts, he did not do so in this case.
One election monitoring group has accused the chief judge of four significant violations, including disgraceful conduct, violation of his oath of office, failure to meet the qualifications for a constitutional judge, and breach of the code of ethics and conduct for constitutional judges.
The petition that led to the ruling was filed by the youth-oriented Indonesian Solidarity Party, which is now headed by Jokowi's other son, 28-year-old Kaesang Pangarep. (He was not involved with the party at the time the petition was filed.)
Enny told reporters that one of the complaints called for Anwar to step down as chief judge, but did not divulge more information about the petitions.
Can the Constitutional Court stand in judgement on itself? According to a report in BenarNews, activists have already raised concerns that Jimly Asshiddiqie, a retired Constitutional Court judge who will sit on the ethics panel, has publicly endorsed Prabowo for the February 14 election. The report also alleged that Jimly's son, Robby Ferliansyah, was running for a legislative seat under Prabowo's Gerindra Party.
All this ensures that whatever the Constitutional Court rules – and history suggests that it will rule in favor of the sitting judges – questions over its independence will continue to linger.
[Sebastian Strangio is Southeast Asia editor at The Diplomat.]