Jakarta – It is imperative that the ethics council tasked with probing the alleged conflict of interest of Constitutional Court Chief Justice Anwar Usman while handling a judicial review petition that benefited President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, should be free from political pressures that could compromise its independence.
The stakes could not be higher, whether or not we can have an impartial adjudicator for a potentially violent election dispute depends on whether the council can produce a credible verdict that is acceptable by the public. In other words, the integrity of the upcoming elections lies in the council's ability to restore public trust in the court.
There is no sugarcoating the damage that the court did to itself when, earlier this month, it ruled in favor of an obscure student who argued that Surakarta Mayor Gibran be exempted from the provisions within the Elections Law that bar individuals under 40 years old from running in a presidential election.
The ruling has been widely condemned as being problematic at best, and an affront to the rule of law at worst. It is no surprise that activists and several individuals have filed separate reports with the court demanding an ethics probe into Anwar and other justices following the Oct. 16 ruling. One of the complainants is rights group the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), which demanded a probe into the five-justice majority that swayed the ruling in favor of the pro-Gibran petitioners.
We fully support the move, for there are clear indications that Anwar may have committed an ethics violation for the following reasons.
Anwar should have recused himself from handling the judicial review petition because he is married to the President's younger sister, which makes Gibran his nephew by marriage. This is a textbook definition of a conflict of interest – his familial ties to one of the parties connected to the petition may compromise his professionalism.
And we have every reason to believe that it did. In a rare incident, one justice called out Anwar for forcing the ruling to be read before the start of the presidential election registration. The justice in question, Saldi Isra, even complained that it was unusual that the court would issue different rulings on the same legal issue in a single day.
That Gibran was eventually named the running mate of Prabowo Subianto, seen as Jokowi's favorite in the election, has only reinforced that suspicion. The court should have known that rumors saying that the President and his oligarchic coalition had lobbied Anwar to rig the ruling for Gibran had been circulating before its release.
The rights activists have accused Anwar of committing four ethics breaches, including engaging in immoral conduct and breaking his oath as a justice.
Justice Wahiduddin Adams has been appointed to the three-member ethics council, along with former Constitutional Court chief justice Jimly Asshidiqie and Bintan Saragih, a law professor at the Pelita Harapan University.
They will have 30 to 45 days to conduct their examination. But with the election approaching, we hope they will complete it sooner in order to give assurance to the public that we will have a competitive and credible election.
We cannot afford to let election disputes be settled on the street. We are no strangers to the brutality of social conflicts that could lead to violence and even deaths. In 2019, at least six supporters of Prabowo, who lost the election, were killed during a protest that turned ugly in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) in Central Jakarta.
The ethics council that is now probing Anwar for alleged ethics violations could prevent a potentially much worse incident from happening.