A judicial panel in Indonesia has demoted the country’s top judge after finding him guilty of a conflict of interest in a ruling last month that allowed President Joko Widodo’s son to run for vice president.
Anwar Usman, who is the president’s brother-in-law, was found guilty of a “gross violation” of the court’s ethics code for failing to recuse himself from the court’s decision on age limits for presidential and vice presidential candidates.
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The ruling, with a five-four majority, paved the way for Widodo’s 36-year-old eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to run for vice president alongside Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto.
Anwar “was proven to have violated judges’ ethical code specifically the principle of neutrality and integrity as he did not recuse himself”, the ethics panel found.
It said, without elaborating, that Anwar “had purposely opened a room for intervention from an external party” and thus had “violated the principle of independence”.
The panel, which cannot change the outcome of the case, said Anwar could remain one of the court’s nine judges but must not take part in any election cases in which he could have a conflict of interest.
The panel was asked to investigate the conduct of judges amid a public outcry after they ruled a minimum age requirement of 40 need not apply to election candidates who had previously held elected office.
The ruling was made just days before the start of registration for the 2024 election.
The panel also reprimanded the other eight judges for violations of the ethical code, including allowing Anwar to be part of the decision.
Former chief justice Jimly Asshiddiqie, who led the three-member panel, said Usman will no longer be eligible to nominate himself or be nominated by other justices to chair the court until his term ends.
He must also recuse himself from deciding election result disputes that pose “a potential conflict of interest”, Asshiddique added.
Usman’s successor as chief justice will be elected by the nine-member constitutional court over the next two days.
In a dissenting opinion, panel member Bintan R Saragih said Usman should be “dishonourably dismissed” from his position as a court justice considering his gross violation of the court’s ethics code.
Speaking after reading the council’s decision, Asshiddiqie said they had decided against firing Usman as a court justice because it would require the establishment of an appeals panel and create uncertainty ahead of the elections.
“We need certainty to not create problems that could result in the election process that is not peaceful,” he said.
The choice of Gibran, currently the mayor of Surakarta (Solo) city, as a vice presidential candidate, has fuelled criticism in Indonesia that Widodo is trying to create a political dynasty in the world’s third-largest democracy.
Widodo is finishing his second and final term and has not formally backed a candidate.