Top Indonesian judge urged to quit over ethics breaches that favoured president’s son

By Ananda Teresia

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Activists and former justices in Indonesia on Wednesday urged a top judge to quit the Constitutional Court, calling him a threat to its credibility over ethics violations in a ruling that enabled the president’s son to run for the vice presidency.

Anwar Usman, the brother-in-law of President Joko Widodo, was on Tuesday removed as chief justice by an ethics panel for a conflict of interest and for failing to recuse himself from a case that favoured nephew Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

But critics said the panel allowing Anwar to remain on the bench rather than dismiss him completely would further dent the credibility of a court that had succumbed to outside interference.

“To restore the dignity of Constitutional Court, we urge Anwar Usman to resign … so he will no longer burden the court,” said Ismail Hasani of the Setara Institute, a human rights and democracy group.

In a editorial titled “a judicial disgrace”, the Jakarta Post said the court was a “broken reflection” of what it once was.

Anwar on Wednesday said he was the victim of a character assassination and had faced “baseless and ruthless defamation”.

Gibran had been ineligible to run for the vice presidency because he was four years shy of the minimum age of 40. But three days away from registration for the Feb. 14 polls, the court decided that rule need not apply to all candidates.

Gibran’s decision to become Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto’s running mate has intensified speculation that Jokowi, as the president is known, is seeking to retain influence after he completes his second and final term next year.

Jokowi has faced accusations he interfered in the ruling, which he has declined to respond to. The panel on Tuesday said Anwar had created an opportunity for intervention from an “external party”.

Usman Hamid, executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said the panel allowing all the judges to remain at the court had failed to restore public trust and the country needed a credible court to settle any election-related disputes next year.

Former chief judge Hamdan Zoelva said recent events had eroded public confidence, while one of the court’s former judges, Maruarar Siahaan, said it would be right for Anwar to quit.

“Anyone would resign in this circumstance,” Maruarar said.

Law expert Bivitri Susanti said the panel had been soft on Anwar and should have sanctioned him with a dishonourable and permanent dismissal.

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia; Editing by Martin Petty)