Jakarta – The integrity of next year's general election has been blatantly undermined by the Constitutional Court's willingness to accommodate the wishes of the powerful over the needs of democracy, though it is heartening to see that none of the presidential candidates, or political parties supporting them, are pulling out of the crucial electoral process, despite their entirely justified complaints.
Even more encouraging is that a group of more than 100 civil society groups and public figures launched an initiative called Jaga Pemilu (Safeguard the Election) on Tuesday to help ensure free and fair elections. They believe in next year's elections, that they are worth salvaging, if only because the alternative – not having elections – would be far worse.
The Constitutional Court's Ethics Council found that six of the court's nine justices committed ethics violations by ruling to carve out an exception to the minimum legal age of 40 years for presidential and vice presidential candidates. The justices were given written reprimands but retained their jobs.
The ruling itself, however, stands, allowing the son of President Joko "Jokowi' Widodo to be the running mate of Prabowo Subianto, the current frontrunner in the presidential race. It is no coincidence that the court's chief justice at the time, Anwar Usman, is Jokowi's brother-in-law. It is a clear sign that nepotism has become normalized in this country.
There are fears of further abuses of power, too, considering that the son of a sitting president has joined the race. President Jokowi has pledged to remain neutral, and so have the military and police, but several recent incidents have put state apparatus' impartiality into question.
Moving forward, it is important for the Constitutional Court to work to regain the public's trust after this scandal and help restore the election's integrity. The court must not create any further opportunity for skepticism about the impartiality of its decisions, as it may have to rule on crucial electoral disputes next year.
Given the low trust in the court, candidates or their supporters could use any appearance of impropriety as a pretext to reject the election results altogether.
In May 2019, supporters of presidential candidate Prabowo went on a rampage when he refused to accept the victory of Jokowi, the incumbent. Similarly, United States president Donald Trump incited his supporters to violence in January 2021, as did Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil earlier this year, both after refusing to accept electoral defeats.
This has become a trend. Notice how they all used the same tactic: questioning the integrity of the elections.
The Jaga Pemilu movement seeks to salvage the integrity of next year's elections. They are recruiting volunteers to join in their endeavor to monitor the electoral process – from the campaign period, which begins next week, to voting day in February and onward to vote-counting and the announcement of the results, which usually occurs a month afterward.
The need for such an initiative from civil society is another indication of the low trust the public places in the formal institutions set up to safeguard the elections, including the General Elections Commission (KPU), the Election Supervisory Body (Baswalu) and the Constitutional Court. One more layer of monitoring – and this one we believe will be independent – can't hurt and may help bring about the credibility this election desperately needs.
This will be Indonesia's sixth general election after the fall of Soeharto. The previous five were by no means perfect, but they were considered free, fair and democratic, and the results were widely accepted and seen as reflecting the will of the people.
The signs in the run-up to the 2024 elections are not good – from a resurgence of authoritarian tendencies to the shrinking of space for public discourse – but we applaud the public, who by and large, continue to believe in democracy and understand how precious it is.
Salvaging the election is the only way to save democracy.