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A judicial disgrace

Jakarta Post Editorial - November 8, 2023

Jakarta – There is perhaps no man more appropriate to lead the ethics probe into Constitutional Court chief justice Anwar Usman than Jimly Ashshiddiqie, the first person to lead the judicial institution that has long been regarded as the hallmark of our reform movement.

While reading the ethics council's verdict of the case that was broadcast live on television and livestreamed on social media on Tuesday, Jimly called out the court's justices for being so permissive to conflicts of interest as a result of what he called the culture of 'ewuh pekewuh', a Javanese term for reluctance to confront illicit practices.

It is safe to say that under Anwar's leadership, the court has become a national disgrace, a broken reflection of what it once was – a dignified guardian of democracy.

The ethics council led by Jimly found Anwar and the other eight justices guilty of ethics breaches while handling a judicial review petition challenging the minimum age for presidential and vice presidential election contenders, which was set at 40 in the Election Law. The petition was filed by a supporter of Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, a nephew of Anwar and the eldest son of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

Despite the conflict of interest on the part of Anwar as Gibran's uncle, the court ruled in favor of the petitioner, practically clearing the way for the 36-year-old politician to contest the presidential race as Prabowo Subianto's running mate. That's exactly what happened. Only days after the controversial ruling and amid public outcry, Prabowo and Gibran registered their electoral bid with the General Elections Commission (KPU).

"The reported justices have been proven to have violated the code of ethics [...] the principles of decency and modesty," Jimly said. "The practice of ignoring conflicts of interest has become a habit, part of the norm."

Anwar has been removed from his position as the court's chief justice and barred from handling election-related cases, while the rest of the justices were reprimanded for failing to speak out against Anwar's glaring conflict of interest.

The council's verdict is commendable and could restore public trust in the court, which plays a critical role in ensuring the legitimacy of the elections. For decades, the court has been a credible and reliable arbiter of election disputes, saving the country from potentially destabilizing and debilitating social and political conflicts.

The public now ponders whether the court will overturn its ruling on the presidential age limit, given that the ethics council has stated loud and clear that the ruling was morally flawed. The verdict cannot overturn the said ruling, but it should be taken into consideration in future petitions challenging the same legal provisions.

The court is now handling several judicial review requests that were filed to challenge the contentious ruling, arguing that the exemption to the minimum age rule should be more specific, that it only applies to governors and not all regional heads.

We are aware that the court only has a few days to issue another ruling on the case. The KPU will officially qualify the presidential contenders on Nov. 13. It only has a short window to amend its regulation on the presidential age limit, once again, which would have to be, again, consulted with the House of Representatives.

Regardless of whether the court decides to revoke its previous ruling, or whether the KPU will have time to amend its policies again and potentially change the election schedule, the court ruling that allows Gibran to run for election is morally flawed.

It is in the best interests of the public, and also of Prabowo himself, that Gibran's candidacy be reconsidered, given the immorality of its legal basis. Gibran could be an asset or a huge liability for the former Army general's presidential bid.

If anything, it is time for the Constitutional Court to work hard to regain public trust.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/11/08/a-judicial-disgrace.htm