Indonesian Election Dispute In the Hands of These Nine Judges

AKARTA—Indonesia’s Constitutional Court will soon issue a decision on a legal challenge by presidential contender Prabowo Subianto to overturn the results of last month’s election, in which Jakarta Gov.

JAKARTA—Indonesia’s Constitutional Court will soon issue a decision on a legal challenge by presidential contender Prabowo Subianto to overturn the results of last month’s election, in which Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo was declared the winner. It will be one of the biggest decisions in the history of Indonesia’s young democracy, and it will be left to the court’s nine judges.

The justices are appointed by the House of Representatives, the president and the Supreme Court, each of which is entitled to appoint three justices to serve five-year terms at two term limits. Exception lies with the chief justice, who is elected by the other court judges to serve a term of only 2.5 years.

In a court whose responsibilities include dissolving political parties and resolving disputes over election results, the judges are a mixed group. Some have links to political groupings that have supported Mr. Subianto. Others are career judges, some with backgrounds in Islamic law.  The court’s official website provides some details:

Hamdan Zoelva

“The Constitutional Court had in the past made controversial …  bold rulings that were repeatedly challenged by both legal experts and politicians,” chief justice Mr. Zoelva wrote in a blogpost on July 7th, 2008, two years before he was inducted to the court. The statement appeared on his personal blog as a reflection of his view on the Constitutional Court’s role in Indonesia’s state administration system. On another personal note, Mr. Zoelva’s brother, Ahmad Thib Raya, is married to Musdah Mulia, the director of the Megawati Institute – a Jakarta-based think tank founded by former president Megawati Soekarnoputri – and a member of  Mr. Widodo’s campaign team.

Mr. Zoelva was elected chief by the other constitutional justices after former chief justice Akil Mochtar was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for accepting bribes over local election disputes. Mr. Mochtar was sentenced to life in prison by Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Court in June.

Prior to becoming a judge, Mr. Zoelva, 52, had worked for law firm O.C. Kaligis & Associates and partnered with well-known lawyer Eggi Sudjana. Mr. Sudjana is currently representing Mr. Prabowo and his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, in the election dispute case before the Constitutional Court. Mr. Zoelva is also a former Deputy Chairman of the Crescent Star Party (PBB), one of the parties in the coalition supporting Messers Prabowo and Hatta. He withdrew from the party in 2010 following his installment as a Constitutional Court justice.

Arief Hidayat

Mr. Hidayat, 58, was inaugurated into the court in April 2013 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono after gaining a majority of votes from members of the House of Representatives. A former law professor, Mr. Hidayat replaced Mohammad Mahfud MD, who had reached the end of his first term and decided not to extend his tenure. In November 2013 Mr. Hidayat was elected deputy chief justice. Before joining the court, Mr. Hidayat was a lecturer in Diponegoro University’s Faculty of Law and was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his 25 years of teaching service. He also headed the Association of Constitutional Law and Administrative Law Lecturers in Central Java and the Center for Democratic and Constitutional Law Studies.

Maria Farida Indrati

Ms. Indrati had ambitions of becoming a piano teacher, according to her profile on the court’s website, but chose instead to study constitutional law at the University of Indonesia.

She was the only justice to contest the court’s decision to uphold the 2008 Pornography Law, which broadly defines pornography and makes illegal anything considered capable of inciting sexual desire. In her dissent, Ms. Indrati said the law was open to various interpretations, that it was divisive and would be difficult to implement. She also contested the court’s decision to uphold the 1965 Blasphemy Law, saying the law should be revoked because it allows the state to intervene in interpretations of religious teachings.

Ms. Indrati, now 65, is the only female justice in the court’s history. She was appointed to the court by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2008 and is currently serving her second five-year term.

Muhammad Alim

Mr. Alim is one out of two career judges serving in the Constitutional Court and was appointed by former Supreme Court Justice Bagir Manan in 2008. Born in Palopo, South Sulawesi, on April 21, 1945, Mr. Alim studied law in Hasanuddin University, in Sulawesi, and had both a master’s degree and PhD on constitutional law from the Islamic University of Indonesia.

In 2009 Mr. Alim, along with three other justices, gave a dissenting opinion on a ruling to uphold the 2002 Broadcasting Law, which allows cigarette advertisements to be shown on television and billboards. The National Commission for Child Protection had requested that the court review the law, saying it violated children’s rights. The court ruled that, as a legal product, tobacco commercials could not be banned, but Mr. Alim said the ads only benefited cigarette manufacturers and the advertising industry while harming millions of Indonesian children.

Ahmad Fadlil Sumadi

Mr. Sumadi, 52, has a strong background in Islamic Law, stemming both from his academic background, and from having served as a justice in several religious courts. He was appointed as a justice by the Supreme Court in 2010, though has not been seen to take the lead on any particular cases regarding Islamic Law.

In 2012, he was among four other judges who gave dissenting opinions on the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the government must ask the House’s permission before buying shares in U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation. He said the government’s purchase of a 7% share in Newmont was constitutional.

Anwar Usman

The Supreme Court appointed Anwar Usman as a justice to replace Arsyad Sanusi, who announced his resignation in February 2011 after the court decided he had violated its code of conduct following allegations that his family had accepted bribes in connection with the election of a regent in their hometown of South Bengkulu, Sumatra. Mr. Sanusi denied the allegations and proceeded with a request to retire as justice. Mr. Usman, 58, worked for the Supreme Court as a justice assistant from 1997 to 2003 and as head of the court’s personnel department from 2003 to 2006. He was appointed as a justice at the Jakarta High Court in 2005 but retained his post at the Supreme Court for another year.

In May 2014 he took a dissenting opinion on a Constitutional Court decision to reject a judicial review filed by a student group from Esa Unggul University that said the court should divest itself of the authority to handle complaints about local and regional elections.

Patrialis Akbar

Mr. Akbar was appointed as a justice by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2013. He replaced Ahmad Sodiki, the deputy Constitutional Court chief justice, who had completed his first and only five-year term with the court. Mr. Akbar, a former member of parliament, served as the minister of justice and human rights starting in 2009. He  was dismissed by from the Cabinet in 2011 due to what he told parliament was a certain “political situation.” The exact reasons for his dismissal are unclear. In 2011 he also resigned from the National Mandate Party (PAN), one of the parties supporting the presidential bid of Messers Subianto and Rajasa.

A non-profit group called the Civil Society Coalition for Saving the Constitutional Court said they rejected Mr. Akbar’s appointment and filed a lawsuit against his induction at the State Administrative Court. They called on Mr. Yudhoyono to cancel Patrialis’ inauguration, arguing that it violated a law on the Constitutional Court calling for transparency in the nomination of judges. Mr. Yudhoyono appealed to the High State Administrative Court and won.

Wahidudin Adams

Born in Palembang, South Sumatra, on January 17, 1954, Mr. Adams was appointed as a justice by the House of Representatives in March 2014. He began his law career as a bureaucrat the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and served there until his retirement earlier this year. He last served as chief of the Directorate General of Law and Regulations.

While at the ministry, Mr. Adams was authorized to represent the president in the hearing of judicial reviews and Constitutional Court disputes concerning officials from state institutions.


Mr. Aswanto, 50, was also appointed as a justice by the House of Representatives in March this year together with Mr. Adams. He was dean of the Faculty of Law at Hasanuddin University before taking up the post.

Mr. Aswanto worked as a member of a human rights campaign team in South Sulawesi at the Justice and Human Rights Regional Office in 2002. In 2004, he helmed the South Sulawesi General Election Supervisory Committee. He also served on the South Sulawesi Honorary Council of General Election Commission in 2007; and as Makassar Ombudsman in 2008-2010, working on issues related to the delivery of public services by government bodies.

He graduated from the Hasanuddin University’s Faculty of Law in 1986. Mr. Aswanto also holds a master’s degree in law from Gadjah Mada University and a PhD in law from Airlangga University.