JAKARTA — A wave of condemnation has been growing in Indonesia – with some of the dissenting voices from within the judicial circle itself – after the country’s Constitutional Court made last-minute changes to the requirements for presidential and vice presidential candidates.
This comes just days before registration for possible contenders in next year’s election opens on Thursday (Oct 19).
Analysts say the changes greatly favour President Joko Widodo, clearing the path for his 36-year-old son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to participate in next February’s presidential election and for the outgoing president – who is barred from running for a third term by the country’s Constitution – to build his own political dynasty.
Indonesia’s election law previously required all presidential and vice presidential candidates to be at least 40 years of age.
But on Monday, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court – which is chaired by the president’s brother-in-law Professor Anwar Usman – amended this provision by allowing people who have been previously elected to regional posts to participate in the presidential election regardless of their age.
Mr Rakabuming is currently the mayor of Solo City in Central Java. He was elected into office in 2020 and sworn in the following year.
“This ruling can be considered as an odd and political ruling,” Mdm Titi Anggraini, an expert on election laws from University of Indonesia told CNA.
The court’s decision comes as the mayor was being considered as a possible running mate for Mr Prabowo Subianto, the current defence minister who has been leading the popularity polls ahead of next year’s election.
Analysts say the court might have ruled differently if Mr Rakabuming had not been considered for the ticket or if the court was nothelmed by the mayor’s uncle.
A Split Court
The motion to change the requirements was lodged by a total of ten plaintiffs. Since their demands differ slightly, the plaintiffs were split into four separate trials.
Five plaintiffs from the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) for example motioned for the minimum age requirement to be lowered to 35. Mr Widodo’s youngest son, Mr Kaesang Pangarep, is the party’s chairman.
Meanwhile, the Change Indonesia Guardian Party (Garuda) wanted the provision to exclude those who have experience in bureaucracy, which is similar to the demands of three other plaintiffs: Bukit Tinggi mayor Erman Safar, South Lampung vice regent Pandu Kesuma Dewangsa and East Java deputy governor Emil Dardak.
The tenth plaintiff was a university student from Solo named Almas Tsaqibbirru who told the court that he is an admirer of Mr Rakabuming and believe the mayor’s constitutional rights have been jeopardised by the minimum age requirement.
Mr Tsaqibbirru wanted the provision to exclude those who have been elected to parliamentary, gubernatorial, regency or mayoral positions.
In Indonesia, a member of parliament has to be at least 21 years old, while the minimum age for governors, regents and mayors is 30. After rejecting the demands of the nine other plaintiffs, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Mr Tsaqibbirru.
The court, however, was not unanimous, with four out of the nine judges ruling against changing the election law.
“Since I became a Constitutional Court judge … this is the first time I experienced such extraordinarily bizarre circumstances. The court changes its stance in a flash. Before … the court explicitly and firmly states that the matter of minimum age is the jurisdiction of the lawmakers (parliament),” one of the dissenting judges, Prof Saldi Isra told the court on Monday as he read out his objection.
Meanwhile, another dissenting judge, Prof Arief Hidayat, said Court chairman Prof Usman should have stayed clear of the case because of a conflict of interest.
The chairman, Prof Hidayat said in his objection, initially agreed to sit out from the three trials involving the nine other plaintiffs due to his family relations with the president.
But when it cameto the fourth case involving the university student Mr Tsaqibbirru, Prof Hidayat said that Prof Usman not only insisted on joining the panel but also presided over the case’s proceedings.
“This is an act which I find unacceptable,” Prof Hidayat told the court on Monday adding that he tried to bring this up with the other judges but his complaint fell on deaf ears with the majority of the panel members.
Mdm Anggraini – the election law expert – said the controversial nature of how the decision came to be could delegitimise Mr Rakabuming’s possible candidacy and if elected, his administration.
“The Constitutional Court should have exercised restraint from making a ruling that is not supported by strong, valid and solid legal reasoning,” she said.
A Possible Candidate
The ruling opens the door for all elected regional officials under 40 to participate in the presidential election but none is more prominent orin the public conscience than Mr Rakabuming.
The idea that Mr Rakabuming should run for vice president was first aired by several members of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), a party founded and chaired byMr Subianto.
Both the Solo mayor and the defence minister have admitted to staging several face-to-face interactions as early as May but refused to divulge what was discussed.
Mr Subianto said on Oct 14 that he is currently mulling over a list of four names as his possible running mate saying that one of them is from Central Java, which many took as a hint to Mr Rakabuming.
Other names floated as possible running mates for Mr Subianto include East Java governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa (58), State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir (53) as well as Coordinating Minister for Economics Airlangga Hartarto (61).
Politicians from Mr Subianto’s coalition of parties have also come out in support of Mr Rakabuming saying that he is a strong candidate which would pair nicely with the defence minister.
But Mr Rakabuming and his fatherMr Widodo are both members of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). The ruling party has nominated Central Java governor, Mr Ganjar Pranowo, as their presidential candidate. PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri on Monday instructed her cadres to remain loyal.
“Once you are a party member, don’t think about flirting let alone moving to another party,” she said on the party’s YouTube channel.
The party’s ethics commission chairman Komarudin Watubun told news portal Kumparan after Mdm Sukarnoputri’s speech that punishment awaits those who refuse to toe the party line.
Earlier in May, when reports surfaced that Mr Rakabuming had had a meeting with Mr Subianto in Solo, he was summoned to the PDI-P’s headquarters for a “clarification meeting”.
Jokowi’s Legacy in Question
A Constitutional Court ruling is final and binding in Indonesia with no chances of appealing.General Elections Commission (KPU) member Idham Holik said the commission will make necessary changes to the existing regulations and administrative requirements to accommodate Monday’s ruling.
“The KPU as election organiser will honour and comply with the election law and the ruling of the Constitutional Court,” Mr Holik told a press conference on Monday evening.
The KPU commissioner did not say when these technical regulations will be amended. Indonesia, the world’s third biggest democracy, is set to stage simultaneous presidential and legislative elections on Feb 14 and experts predict that it will be a tight race between Mr Subianto and Mr Pranowo with the third candidate, former Jakarta Governor, MrAnies Baswedan trailing far behind.
Registration for presidential and vice presidential candidates is set to open on Thursday and end on Oct 25. The president, popularly known as Jokowi, refused to comment much about the court ruling.
“Let the legal expert be the judge (of the ruling),” Mr Widodo said on his official YouTube channel on Monday evening. “I do not wish to provide an opinion to the Constitutional Court ruling.”
He alsorefused to say much about the chances of his son participating in the Feb 14 presidential elections. “Ask the political parties. That is their jurisdiction,” said Mr Widodo.
Mr Rakabuming also refused to comment on the matter. “Please don’t ask me about the Constitutional Court (ruling). You should ask the legal experts instead,” he told local media. When asked about his chances of participating in the presidential election, the mayor said he is still focusing on his duties in Solo.
Mdm Gita Putri Damayana, a researcher from Indonesia’s Law and Policy Study Centre (PSHK), said whether or not Mr Rakabuming makes the most out of the ruling will shape his father’s legacy.
“The law now allows (Mr Widodo’s) son to run for a presidential ticket. The question is: ‘Should he?’,” Mdm Damayana told CNA.
“If Jokowi wants to say that he had nothing to do with the ruling, that he is not interested in establishing a political dynasty or retain influence and power after he steps down, and set a good example for the country’s democracy, then he should not let his son run.”