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Indonesia's chief justice faces ethics verdict, possible dismissal

Jakarta Post - November 6, 2023

Yerica Lai, Jakarta – The Constitutional Court's ethics council is poised to deliver a verdict that could cost Chief Justice Anwar Usman his job if he is found guilty of making last-minute changes to election candidacy requirements that cleared the way for his nephew by marriage to run for vice president.

Ethics council chief Jimly Ashiddiqie said on Friday that the panel had completed its probe, seen enough evidence to find Anwar guilty of an ethics breach and would deliver the verdict on Tuesday, two weeks after the first hearing.

"This is not a difficult case to prove," Jimly added. "We are now formulating the verdict, and that takes time, given that each complaint has to be answered one at a time," said Jimly, who was also the first chief justice of the Constitutional Court, from 2003 to 2008.

The council has been investigating 21 complaints against all nine justices, with the majority reporting Anwar for alleged ethics breaches on the grounds that he should have recused himself from hearing all the candidacy petitions to avoid conflicts of interest.

Anwar had recused himself from ruling on three ultimately unsuccessful petitions seeking to alter the 40-year age minimum for presidential and vice presidential candidates, but he then participated in a subsequent petition, on which a number of justices switched sides.

Anwar's vote decided the latest ruling 5 to 4 in favor of adding an exception to the age restriction for prospective candidates who had served as elected regional leaders, overriding the previous rulings. This effectively removed the legal barrier stopping Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Anwar's 36-year-old nephew and President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's eldest son, from running for vice president next year.

All the rulings were read out on Oct. 16, about a week before Gibran registered his candidacy.

The ethics council has previously said that it had found indications that Anwar might have lied about his reasons for recusal.

Critics say the ruling was an orchestrated maneuver to allow the President to build a political dynasty before his second and final term ends next year. But Jokowi has brushed off criticism of the court's ruling and its implications for his son's candidacy by saying the choice of who will lead the country should be left to the electorate.

Dishonorable dismissal?

The majority of the complaints demanded that the council impose the toughest penalty on the chief justice: dishonorable dismissal from the court.

"There are not many options left. A dishonorable dismissal would help restore public trust in the court following his apparent conflict of interest," one of the complainants, Feri Amsari, who is also a constitutional law expert and a lawyer, told The Jakarta Post. "Not doing so would only let the same suspicions reemerge next year when the court adjudicates election disputes."

Justices proven guilty of ethics breaches are subject to sanctions ranging from verbal warnings to dismissal, depending on the severity of the violations.

Anwar, who was questioned twice by the ethics panel, said on Friday he was ready to face any punishment, including dishonorable removal.

Will it change anything?

Constitutional law experts – and Jimly himself – have maintained that the council only has the authority to investigate ethics violations of court justices and not to decide the validity of the ruling that cleared the way for Gibran to run for VP next year.Efforts to reverse October's controversial candidacy ruling are under way, with four fresh petitions demanding that the Constitutional Court reexamine the age of candidacy question without Anwar on the bench.

The court is set to hold a hearing on Wednesday on one new petition filed by a law student at Yogyakarta's Nahdlatul Ulama University demanding stricter requirements for electoral candidates: that the only candidates under the age of 40 who should be allowed to run for president or vice president are reelected governors of the country's provinces.

Feri, one of the complainants who accused Anwar of an ethics breach, said he hoped the court would fast-track its judicial review of the new petition and rule on the case on Wednesday, preferably before the General Elections Commission (KPU) closed the registration period for replacement candidates at midnight.

"The substance of the new petition is similar to previous petitions, so the court should skip the hearing process [as it can do it by simply reading the written arguments] and go straight to its decision-making process," Feri said.

But altering the October ruling would not automatically derail Gibran's vice presidential bid, said Titi Anggraini, a visiting lecturer at the University of Indonesia.

"It will depend entirely on what the new ruling is – whether or not it explicitly mentions that it is applicable for the 2024 election. The court usually takes into account the impact of its decision on the ongoing election stages," Titi said.

Titi is also a member of the supervisory board at the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), an elections watchdog that filed third-party interventions opposing at least two October petitions that sought to lower the age minimum for presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Source: https://asianews.network/indonesias-chief-justice-faces-ethics-verdict-possible-dismissal