Public trust crumbles as chief justice hit by alleged ethics breach
The Constitutional Court chief justice Arief Hidayat has been hit by allegations of ethics violations surrounding “political horsetrading” with lawmakers to grant him a second term on the court.
Arief secured his seat for the next five years following approval by the House of Representatives in a plenary meeting on Thursday, a day after he took part in a confirmation hearing, held by House Commission III overseeing legal affairs, as the sole candidate for a seat on the court bench.
However, a coalition of civil society groups has accused Arief and the commission of a lack of transparency regarding his reappointment when his current term ends in March next year.
The groups, led by former chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Busyro Muqoddas, retracted their petition for a judicial review of an article in the 2014 Legislative Institutions Law (MD3), which is currently being heard by the court. The article stipulates the House’s inquiry rights and is being used as the basis for a controversial inquiry into the KPK. The group alleged that the judicial review had become the object of political lobbying between Arief and several members of Commission III over his term extension.
“We had been hopeful that the Court would make a just, fair and impartial ruling when we lodged the petition, but after [the Arief decision] we are very disappointed and have agreed to withdraw our petition,” Busyro said on Thursday.
The court is the final adjudicator of disputes on the interpretation of national laws and election results. Since its establishment in 2003, the court’s nine justices have had the authority to safeguard democracy as the court hears requests from citizens to change or annul laws and election results.
When the lawmakers insisted on proceeding with its controversial inquiry into the KPK, members of the public turned to the court to challenge the House’s inquiry rights in the 2014 law in July. The coalition was one among four plaintiffs who filed motions at the court challenging the House’s inquiry, which they believed was aimed at undermining the KPK’s investigation into the high-profile electronic e-ID graft case implicating dozens of politicians.
Adnan Topan Husodo, an activist with the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), a member of the coalition, said the retraction was a form of protest at the undermining of the credibility of the Constitutional Court by Arief who, he alleged, engaged in political maneuvering that breached justice ethics.
“The Constitutional Court is the country’s gatekeeper of justice, but if the chief justice himself is [implicated in ethics violations] then who should we trust?” Adnan said.
The ICW was among the coalition of civil society groups that filed a report on Arief’s alleged ethics breach and urged the Constitutional Court ethics council to investigate the issue on Wednesday.
Arief has repeatedly denied allegations of lobbying, although he admitted that he had met several lawmakers of the commission at a hotel in Jakarta. Arief claimed that they had only arranged a schedule for the screening of his nomination during the meeting.
The plenary on Thursday ended with no faction rejecting Arief’s reappointment. The opposition Gerindra Party, the only faction to object to Arief, declined to elaborate on their position and abstained.
Previously, Arief attended a meeting with the ethics council during which the chief justice clarified the matter, stating that he attended the meeting with lawmakers based on an official invitation, Constitutional Court spokesperson Fajar Laksono said.
“From the information I’ve gathered, there was no political lobbying let alone negotiations between the authority of the Constitutional Court and the House,” Fajar said.