Indonesia’s top judge ordered to resign over ruling allowing Joko Widodo’s son to run as VP

A judicial panel on Tuesday ordered the country’s top judge to step down after finding him guilty of ethical violations over a ruling that enabled President Joko Widodo’s eldest son to run in next year’s election.
The panel had probed the involvement of Chief Justice Anwar Usman, who presided over a ruling last month which paved the way for Gibran Rakabuming Raka to run as vice-president in February’s general and legislative election.

Anwar had led the constitutional court court comprising nine judges that oversaw the controversial ruling regarding the age limit of presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The panel’s verdict said Anwar – who is also Widodo’s brother-in-law – should have recused himself from the case given his conflict of interest.

Many legal experts and observers had described the court’s verdict as undemocratic. A public outcry following the ruling had also led to hopes that Anwar would be dismissed from his position.

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While the panel ordered Anwar to step down from his position as Chief Justice, he can continue to serve as one of the court’s nine judges. Anwar must also recuse himself from any future election-related cases if there is a potential conflict of interest.

Jimly Asshiddiqie, who headed the panel, said that the investigation had also found that Anwar and the other judges had “collectively violated the constitutional judges’ ethical behaviour code”.

Political analyst Wasisto Raharjo Jati said that many people had been hoping that Anwar would be dismissed from his position.

In the event of another election-related ruling, there could have been a great conflict of interest if Anwar was involved, Wasisto said. “This would have been alarming for Indonesian democracy.”

Chief Justice Anwar Usman presides over the hearing regarding the minimum age of presidential and vice presidential candidates at the constitutional court in Jakarta on October 16, 2023. Photo: AP

On the ruling that allowed Gibran to run, the panel rightly pointed out it did not have the authority to overturn the decision, said Alexander R. Arifianto, a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Indonesia programme.

Before last month’s ruling by the constitutional court, 36-year-old Gibran, the mayor of Surakarta city, did not meet the minimum age requirement of 40 years old to be eligible for the election. But the ruling made an exception for underage candidates who had served as “regional leaders”.

Gibran has signed on to run alongside defence minister Prabowo Subianto, who is making a third bid for the presidency.

Many see the team as a clear sign of Widodo’s support for Prabowo, and a snub to Widodo’s own ruling party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), who has nominated former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo as their candidate.

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But analysts say that Widodo is looking out for his own interests in the coming election, and trying to prolong his involvement in Indonesia’s political scene through his son, as he is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

For Prabowo, tapping on to Widodo’s large support base could boost his popularity. But the choice could also backfire on him if controversy over Gibran’s run further inflames public sentiment.

“The popularity of Prabowo and Gibran has definitely taken a hit given the accusations of a special favour done by Widodo and the Chief Justice,” said Arifianto, saying that the duo is seemingly keeping a low profile and hoping this issue will blow over.

A new survey by Charta Politika shows Ganjar has a slight lead over Prabowo with the two candidates polling 36.8 per cent and 34.7 per cent of the votes, respectively. Also in the running but trailing behind Ganjar and Prabowo is former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who received 24.3 per cent.

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The survey’s findings show some public dissatisfaction towards Widodo’s alleged attempts at intervention in the presidential race.

About 39.7 per cent of the survey participants said that Widodo played a role in influencing the court’s decision, and 23.3 per cent disagreed, while 37 per cent did not respond.

Ganjar and Prabowo have been neck-and-neck in surveys in recent months.

Widodo has declined to comment on the constitutional court’s decision and has said Gibran made the decision to run on his own accord. Last week, he hosted a luncheon with the three presidential candidates, in a bid to highlight his impartiality over the election.

But analysts said Widodo’s gesture was superficial, given the controversy he is facing for prioritising his ambition to establish a political dynasty.

“The situation has not been so great for [Widodo] as of late … he has been receiving a lot of vocal criticism from his critics,” Wasisto said. “But he is choosing to not comment on it, as he wants to show he is focused on neutrality.”

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