High hopes for Saldi Isra to restore trust in Constitutional Court

Author

Muhammad Tanziel Aziezi (Azhe) is a researcher at the Indonesian Institute for an Independent Judiciary (LeIP). Azhe also regularly writes on legal issues on his personal blog, www.kanggurumalas.com.

Saldi Isra is respected among academics and civil society for his intellect, experience and clean reputation. Photo by Antara.

 

Legal scholar Saldi Isra will be installed as the new Constitutional Court judge today, replacing the disgraced Patrialis Akbar, who was recently named a corruption suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo chose Saldi from a list of three candidates that included academic Bernard Tanya, from the University of Nusa Cendana (Undana) in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, and the former director general of legislation at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Wicipto Setiadi.

 

Efforts to find a replacement for Patrialis began in February. Signs were good that the government intended to rectify the damage done to Indonesia’s highest court when Jokowi set up a highly competent selection panel consisting of former Constitutional Court judges Harjono and Maruarar Siahaan, Commissioner on the Judicial Commission Sukma Violetta, leading human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, and Law Professor Ningrum Natasya Sirait, from North Sumatra University (USU).

 

Some 45 candidates registered during the open nomination period in late February and early March. Administrative screening reduced this further to 22 candidates and finally 12 candidates were selected for interviews by the panel. One of these candidates – Muhammad Yusuf, the former head of the Financial Transactions Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) – withdrew, leaving 11 candidates to be interviewed.

 

The selection panel conducted its interviews publicly. In addition to allowing media coverage, it formally invited representatives from civil society to observe the process. The selection panel was also open to receiving reports on the track records of candidates from members of the public and civil society to assist in its deliberations. One group that offered reports was the Court Monitoring Coalition (KPP), a collection of legal and anti-corruption organisations. According to KPP member Edwin Yonatan Sunarjo, the results of its track record reports were used by the selection panel during the interview phase and the KPP was even provided with an opportunity to ask questions directly to candidates.

 

Following interviews, the selection panel ranked the candidates, with the names of the three highest-ranking candidates submitted to the president for consideration on 3 April. On 8 April, Jokowi announced that Saldi was his preferred candidate.

 

Saldi is a professor of law at Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, and director of the Law Faculty’s Centre for Constitutional Studies (PUSaKO). He has long played an active role in constitutional debates and is committed to the anti-corruption movement. Saldi received the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award in 2004, was named an Inspirational Young Figure by Kompas in 2009, and received the Megawati Soekarnoputri Award as a “young hero for corruption eradication” in 2012.

 

Saldi has been a member of selection panels for other positions, and recently served as the head of the selection panel for new members of the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Elections Supervisory Body (Bawaslu). Given his academic skills, experience and clean reputation, his appointment has been almost universally welcomed by observers in the legal sector.

 

This selection process was remarkably different to past selection of Constitutional Court judges. The previous selection process was conducted behind closed doors, far from public scrutiny, and registration was not opened up to capture a range of different candidates. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono directly selected judges to fill the places allocated to the executive. (There are nine Constitutional Court judges, and candidates are derived from the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government).

 

It was this flawed process that resulted in the selection of the man Saldi is replacing, Patrialis, who is now facing allegations of corruption related to a judicial review of the Law No. 41 of 2014 on Agriculture and Animal Health. Patrialis was arrested and named a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) over allegations that he received bribes of US$20,000 (AU$26,700) and SG$200,000 (AU$189,600). As I wrote previously for Indonesia at Melbourne, in 2013, a civil society coalition challenged Patrialis’s selection at the State Administrative Court (PTUN) because of the lack of transparency and accountability in his appointment.

 

With the open and accessible process that resulted in the selection of Saldi, the public has much more reason to believe that not only will he be able to do the job well, but will remain committed to staying clean.