Legal uncertainty

Kompas Newspaper – November 22, 2023

Man: Lest the elections become sorrowful and troubled (A play on the acronym Pemilu meaning election and the word Pilu meaning sorrowful, unhappy, anxious, troubled or very sad).

Tentacle reads "Presidential election legal uncertainty"

The Constitutional Court (MK) ruling on October 16 allowing candidates under the current age limit of 40 years to run as presidential and vice presidential candidates has not only triggered outrage over the obvious conflict of interest, but may also cast a long tentacle of illegitimacy over the February 14 presidential election next year.

The panel of judges hearing seven judicial review requests to lower the minimum age limit for presidential candidates was presided over by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's brother-in-law Chief Justice Anwar Usman.

Although the court did not lower the age limit, saying that this remains the domain of Indonesia’s parliament, they added the caveat that presidential candidates under the age of 40 could run if they had previously held elected public office.

This paved the way for President Widodo's 36-year-old son and Anwar Usman's nephew Gibran Rakabuming Raka – who had served as the mayor of the Central Java city of solo for the last two years – to be eligible to run as a candidate.

Only days later it was announced that Gibran had been selected as presidential hopeful Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto's vice presidential running mate – Widodo's preferred choice as successor.

The verdict severely tarnished the Constitutional Court's image and raised serious questioned about its independence and impartiality. Experts have warned that the ruling will continue to be questioned during the presidential election, especially by Prabowo and Gibran’s political opponents.

“This will become even stronger during the campaign period and ahead of the voting”, said constitutional law lecturer Titi Anggraini, adding that “The narrative about Gibran’s candidacy being illegitimate will continue to be voiced, especially on social media, with the aim of influencing voters and gaining support”.

Ian Wilson, a politics and security studies lecturer at Perth’s Murdoch University, said it will cast a long shadow over Gibran, and by association, Prabowo's political legitimacy.

“Considering the indications of broader public distaste at Jokowi’s dynastic turn, his political rivals are likely to attempt to capitalize upon this. Regardless of the election outcome, it will remain a lingering question mark over his political career”, he said.

Alex Arifianto, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said that the Constitutional Court’s decision raises further concerns regarding judicial independence in Indonesia.

“It raises concerns on whether the Constitutional Court may rule fairly and objectively next year if the losing candidates file a legal challenge against the winner, questioning the fairness of the electoral process", Arifianto said.

Berlian Simarmata, a law lecturer at Santo Thomas Catholic University in Medan, said that “almost certainly the election results would be challenged by somebody because of the original Constitutional Court decision".

“The real worry is that the election result will be seen as invalid by supporters of other candidates and that could be very volatile". he said, adding it could jeopardise the elections themselves.

“We could see wide-scale demonstrations across Indonesia and great civil unrest if people refuse to accept the new presidency and vice-presidency as legal.”