November 10, 2023
JAKARTA – Fresh petitions to tighten eligibility requirements for presidential and vice-presidential candidates may not be enough to derail Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka’s bid for high office next year, experts have said, amid calls for the Constitutional Court to redeem itself in the aftermath of a severe ethics breach involving its chief justice.
On Wednesday, the top court began reviewing one of five judicial review petitions challenging a controversial ruling last month that cleared a path for 36-year-old Gibran to enter the 2024 presidential election as running mate to Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto.
While the court began the preliminary hearing without former chief justice Anwar Usman on the bench, signs indicated that Gibran might still be able to compete in spite of efforts to overturn the previous ruling.
Anwar was found guilty of a “serious ethics violation” for using his position to sway a court decision that allowed his nephew Gibran to circumvent the 40-year candidate age minimum.
At the one-hour hearing, the three presiding court justices suggested their actions would “not be dictated” by public pressure to fast-track their review so that the ruling could come out by Nov. 13, when the General Elections Commission (KPU) confirms the candidate pairs that are qualified to run next year.
The bench argued that the court had a “conveyer belt” full of other cases that also required the justices’ full attention.
“Let us carry on with the process, business as usual,” Justice Suhartoyo told the petitioner at Wednesday’s hearing when asked whether the court would speed up its deliberation.
“But go ahead if you want to propose a fast-tracked review. We will convey it to the other judges later.”
The petition, filed by Brahma Aryana, a 23-year-old law student from Nahdlatul Ulama University, seeks stricter requirements for electoral candidates, demanding that only provincial governors who have been reelected at least once should be able to circumvent the 40-year age minimum for presidential and vice presidential candidates, instead of all regional leaders.
The court, presided over by then-chief justice Anwar, the brother-in-law of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, ruled in October that candidates under 40 could contest as long as they had served as elected regional leaders. The court decision ignited a public outcry against nepotism and dynastic politics, which critics saw as a setback to the country’s decades of democratic reform.
“We aren’t talking about thwarting one of the candidates. We want the election to have a strong basis of legitimacy so that later there won’t be any attempt to delegitimize the elections. That could prompt ‘horizontal conflict’, which we don’t want happening,” Viktor Santoso Tandiasa, one of the lawyers representing Brahma, told reporters.
Activists, law experts and petitioners have called for the top court to move swiftly to rule on all judicial review requests that were filed in opposition to the contentious October ruling, given the short window of opportunity.
KPU chief Hasyim Asy’ari told reporters separately that the election body would follow the existing norms but that any changes would have to be made before the Nov. 13 cut-off date, “which is when we will announce the [qualified] candidates”.
“If there are changes to norms in the [Elections Law], whether due to a revision or because it was overruled and reformulated by the Constitutional Court, then we will follow the latest norms,” he said on Wednesday.
But even if the court manages to overturn its previous ruling on candidate eligibility, the chances of it affecting Gibran’s vice-presidential candidacy remain slim, according to court ethics council chief Jimly Asshiddiqie.
Jimly cited the Purcell principle, which rejects last-minute changes to election provisions, when he said there was limited time left before voting day on Feb. 14, 2024, and that any new ruling would likely only come into effect for the next general election in 2029.
“This is a matter of principle. If we want to change the rules of the game, it should have been done some time ago,” the former Constitutional Court chief justice said.
“If the match has already commenced. We should all move forward. Otherwise, it will only create more uncertainty.”
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Wednesday’s hearing began a day after the ethics council ordered that Anwar be demoted from the chief justice position and barred from adjudicating election disputes.
He was found guilty of a serious ethics violation after “purposefully giving leeway to outside intervention” and “making efforts to persuade his fellow justices in determining their stance” to alter eligibility requirements.
Anwar defended himself in a separate press conference on Wednesday, alleging that the chain of events leading up to his dismissal amounted to attempted character assassination.
“The slander addressed to me regarding my handling of the case is very vicious and was not at all based on law or fact. I will not sacrifice myself – my dignity and my honor – at the end of my service as a justice for the benefit of a certain candidate pairing,” he claimed.
“I am hopeful that behind all of this, God willing, there is great wisdom that will be a gift to me and my extended family, friends and, especially, to the court and nation.”
President Jokowi has yet to comment on the ethics council’s verdict but played down growing concerns over the integrity and fairness of the elections in a speech to open the 2024 general election coordination meeting.
“This election is a very open election that can be monitored by anyone – by the public, by the media and others,” Jokowi said at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday.
Amid calls from opponents and critics to reconsider Gibran’s nomination, Prabowo’s camp appeared to stand its ground by accusing the legal motions challenging the October ruling of being an attempt to “discredit the pair”.
Constitutional expert and former justice Maruarar Siahaan said the legitimacy of Gibran’s candidacy would now be left to the people.
“The decision to have the principles of honest and fair elections stipulated in the Constitution will now be left to the people at the ballot,” he said on Wednesday. (tjs)