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Indonesia Demotes Chief Justice for Election-Related Ethical Violation

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The chief justice of Indonesia’s top court was dismissed from the post after an ethics council found him guilty Tuesday of making last-minute changes to election candidacy requirements.

Constitutional Court Chief Justice Anwar Usman committed the ethical violation that cleared the way for President Joko Widodo’s eldest son to run for vice president next year, Jimly Asshiddiqie, the chief of the court’s Honorary Council, known also as the ethics council, said in the majority decision.

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Usman “was proven to have committed a serious violation of the code of ethics and behavior of constitutional justices” by violating the principles of impartiality, integrity, competence, equality, independence, appropriateness and decency, Asshiddiqie said.

The ruling came less than a month after the Constitutional Court, in a 5-4 decision, carved out an exception to the minimum age requirement of 40 for presidential and vice presidential candidates, allowing the president’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, to seek the post.

Various organizations and rights activists challenged the court’s Oct. 16 decision. A majority reported Usman for alleged ethics breaches on the grounds that he should have recused himself from hearing candidacy petitions to avoid conflicts of interest since Raka is his nephew by marriage.

The three-judge ethics panel removed Usman as chief justice but allowed him to remain on the court under certain conditions. The panel banned him from being involved when the court adjudicates election disputes next year.

It ordered the vice chief justice to lead the selection of the court’s new leadership within 48 hours and prohibited Usman’s nomination for chief justice during the remainder of his current term, which ends in 2028. He can be reappointed after 2028 as he is not over 70 years old.

In a dissenting opinion, a member of the panel, Bintan R. Saragih, argued for Usman’s dishonorable and permanent dismissal, not just as chief, the toughest possible penalty.

“The only sanction for serious violations is dishonorable dismissal and there are no other sanctions as regulated in the current law on the Constitutional Court,” Saragih said.

Most of the complaints filed asked to have the ruling at issue thrown out. Council Chief Asshiddiqie maintained the panel did not have authority to overturn the court.

Usman did recuse himself from ruling on three unsuccessful petitions seeking to alter the candidacy age requirement but then participated in considering a subsequent petition to allow people who had served as regional leaders to seek higher office before they turned 40. He voted with the majority of the nine-judge Constitutional Court panel in favor of creating the exception.

The decision helped Raka, whom Indonesians refer to by his first name, because he is major of Surakata, a city in Central Java province. About a week later, leading presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces general who currently serves as Indonesia’s defense minister, picked Raka as his running mate.

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Critics called the Constitutional Court’s ruling nepotistic, and analysts warned it could undermine the democratic process. In response to the public challenges, the court established the three-member ethics council, made up of a court justice, an academic and a public figure, to investigate the nine justices, particularly the ones who voted in favor of amending the age limit.

Dewa Gede Palguna, a constitutional law expert who served two terms as Constitutional Court justice, said the panel’s sanctions on Usman would not affect the ruling but might help restore public trust in the court.

“The Constitutional Court ruling is final and absolutely valid,” Palguna said in an interview with Kompas TV, an Indonesian television network.

The court is expected to issue its rulings Wednesday on several pending cases seeking to tighten the age exception by only allowing under age 40 candidates only for those who has served two terms in office as provincial governors to run in the presidential contest.

The General Election Commission is set to close the registration period for a political party or a coalition to replace their candidates for president or vice president at midnight Wednesday.

Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, is set to hold both legislative and presidential elections in February 2024.

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