Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia’s presidential and general elections have been jeopardized following a surprise decision to delay a vote by a Jakarta court, prompting widespread condemnation of the shock and seemingly unconstitutional decision.
Jakarta’s Central District Court ruled earlier this month that elections – due to take place in February 2024 – should be delayed for two and a half years, meaning elections could take place in 2025 at the earliest .
The judge’s decision follows a legal action brought by a relatively unknown political party – Prima – which had complained that it had not been allowed to register to contest the elections.
A three-judge panel ruled that Prima was unfairly disenfranchised when she was unable to submit required documents electronically due to an error caused by the General Election Commission website .
But the decision to delay two elections to accommodate a fringe political party has angered many in Indonesia – and raised questions about the court’s motives.
“Given the backlash the recent court decision has caused from public and political elites, it is clear that the majority of Indonesians want the elections to take place,” Ian Wilson, senior lecturer in political and security studies at Murdoch University in Perth, Al Jazeera told Al Jazeera.
“From what I understand, Prima challenged the decision not to allow them to register as a party. What was so shocking was the court’s decision to delay the whole process, including the election, it seemed like an odd response to the case,” Wilson said.
“It seemed outside the court’s legal authority, so it sparks speculation that it might have been politically motivated,” he said.
The court said in its March 2 decision that it wanted to “restore justice and prevent, as soon as possible, any errors, inaccuracies and lack of professionalism”, also noting that an administrative tribunal had previously dismissed Prima’s complaint. , forcing the party to escalate matters by filing a civil suit instead.
But was it the court decision to postpone the 2024 constitutional elections? Many think not.
“To order the postponement of elections until 2025 is an open violation of the mandate of the constitution,” said Titi Anggraini, member of the advisory board of the Association for Elections and Democracy and professor of constitutional law at Universitas Indonesia.
“The General Election Commission should have just continued with the existing steps and schedule” for the elections, said Anggraini, who called the court ruling “strange, clumsy and suspicious” as well as being unconstitutional.
“If he carries out the decision of the Central Jakarta District Court, he will violate the Constitution and disrupt the construction of the Indonesian constitution where the tenure of the president and vice president is set in stone,” she said. at Al Jazeera.
Niswan Harefa, lecturer in the law of state institutions at Santo Thomas Catholic University in Medan, agrees.
“Anyone can be sued, even the president himself. But, in this case, it is the incorrect mechanism for making decisions on the timing of elections. The lawsuit should have been heard by the administrative court,” Harefa told Al Jazeera.
The Indonesian constitution states that presidents serve for five yearsafter which they can only be elected for one further term, meaning they can only hold office for a maximum of 10 years.
While the constitution was enshrined in law in 1945, after the country gained independence from the Dutch, the time limit for presidents serving only two terms was added in 1999.
This addition occurred during the Reformation period following the resignation in 1998 of Indonesian Dictator, President Suharto after 30 years in power, and was designed to prevent subsequent presidents from emulating Suharto’s rule.
Over the years, however, there have been whispers about an extension of the maximum number of times a president can be elected, which could allow Indonesia’s current president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, will serve a third term.
For his part, Widodo spoke out against any decision to stay in office any longer, saying he supported the General Election Commission’s decision to appeal the Jakarta court’s decision to delay the votes.
“There have been pros and cons in this controversy, but the government maintains that the General Election Commission has filed an appeal,” Widodo said in a video statement provided by the presidential secretariat on March 6.
Some have wondered if there was more to the judges’ decision than meets the eye, especially when it appears the initial lawsuit launched by Prima made no reference to the need to postpone presidential and general elections. .
Alex Arifianto, a research fellow with the Indonesia program at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Al Jazeera that public sentiment around the decision remains high.
“The only legal route for those who wish to change the presidential term is to amend the constitution,” Arifianto said, citing a 2021 survey that found 78% of Indonesians rejected any proposed changes.
Another survey conducted by pollster Y-Publica from February to March this year found that more than 81.5% of respondents were against postponing presidential and general elections.
“Therefore, anyone who insists on amending the constitution would go against the vast majority of Indonesians who do not want it to be amended to extend the term of the president,” Arifianto said.
“Not to mention that it violates a constitutional norm that has been institutionalized for more than two decades since Indonesia became a democracy.”