APSN Banner

Analysis: Law revision deemed putting leash on Constitutional Court

Jakarta Post - May 29, 2024

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – The fourth amendment to the 2003 Constitutional Court Law is about to be added to the growing list of bills that, despite much public backlash, are to be passed into law under the administration of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. The proposed amendments will likely chip away at the judiciary's independence and thus leave it vulnerable to political influences.

Revisions to the law include reducing the tenure of the court's justices from 15 to 10 years. Justices that have held office for more than five years but less than 10 years must undergo evaluation to extend their terms in office, which also requires the approval of their appointing institutions, including the president and the House of Representatives.

According to House Deputy Speaker Sufi Dasco Ahmad, the Constitutional Court Law revision was first proposed to the House in February 2023. Initially, the revisions concerned changing the age limit for justices, revising members of the court's Ethics Council and altering the terms of the court leadership.

After months of silence, however, the bill was then suddenly finalized during a meeting between the government and House Commission III in late November before it was put on hold due to the 2024 general election. It should be noted that only eight out of nine House factions were present at that meeting, while the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was absent.

When word of the law revision spread, the public criticized the bill's deliberation being largely held behind closed doors and how it was not initially included among the priority bills of the 2023 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas). As with many other bills deliberated during the Jokowi administration, public consultation was minimal.

Backlash over the Constitutional Court Law revision also partly fueled public suspicion of government intervention at the court during the election disputes.

Critics are now convinced that the government and House are planning to ratify the bill during the current plenary session, which began on May 20, in response to the unprecedented dissenting opinions that three justices voiced when the court upheld the results of the Feb. 14 presidential election. The three justices were Saldi Isra, Enny Nurbaningsih and Arief Hidayat.

Although the court ultimately rejected the fraud allegations made against president-elect Prabowo Subianto, the three dissenting opinions indicate that the issue was heavily debated among the eight justices. In his opinion, Saldi expressed agreement with the plaintiffs' claim that President Jokowi's disbursing social aid helped sway votes in favor of presidential pair Prabowo and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi's eldest son.

The court's independence will surely erode if this bill is ratified. Not only will the justices become more compliant in order to pass their evaluation, but it will also give the government and the House the leeway to act in their own interests in appointing justices to the court. As such, this would make it easier for Prabowo and Gibran to enact their policies without much resistance once they succeed Jokowi in October.

Jokowi's recent maneuvers to whittle away at the country's democratic norms could allow him to retain political power even after he steps down. Prabowo and Gibran's landslide election victory is one indication of this, especially since the pair campaigned on a platform to continue Jokowi's policies.

What we've heard

According to a source at the House, the revisions made to the Constitutional Court were aimed at the justices who voiced dissenting opinions during the election results dispute case. "[The revision allows] the nominating institutions to refuse to extend a justice's term of office if his or her decisions go against the government," the source said.

Moreover, two sources asserted that former coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister Mahfud MD refused to resume discussions at the House. At the time, Mahfud also lobbied Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly to reject the bill. Discussions over the revision resumed smoothly once Mahfud stepped down from his post to compete in the 2023 vice presidential race.

One of the sources claimed that an official from the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister assisted the revision process. "Reportedly on orders from the State Palace," the source added.

The Constitutional Court Law was revised because several rulings have conflicted with government programs, such as the Omnibus Law on Job Creation. "The Court has been deemed inconsistent with the government," the source said.

[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/29/analysis-law-revision-deemed-putting-leash-on-constitutional-court.htm