The Constitutional Court has ruled that ex-convicts should be allowed to run for public office 'as long as [they] openly and honestly make known to the public that they are a former convict.' (SP Photo/Joanito de Saojoao)

Constitutional Court Clears Way for Ex-Convicts to Run for Regional Office

JULY 10, 2015

Jakarta. Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has quashed a prohibition against serious criminal offenders running for public office, just a day after removing a similar electoral restriction meant to prevent the formation of political dynasties.

In a ruling on Thursday on a challenge to the 2015 Regional Elections Law by former convicts Jumanto and Fathor Rasyid, the court found in favor of the petitioners’ argument that the prohibition went “against the spirit of the Constitution.”

The prohibition in question, Article 7(g) of the law, states that no one who has been convicted of a crime for which the minimum prescribed sentenced is five years may run for the post of governor, mayor or district chief.

However, the chief of the panel of justices hearing the challenge, Anwar Usman, ruled the article invalid, saying that ex-convicts should be allowed to run for public office “as long as [they] openly and honestly make known to the public that they are a former convict.”

“[Article 7(g)] has infringed on the petitioners’ right for equal legal and political standing,” Anwar added.

Patrialis Akbar, another of the justices, said that ex-convicts who did not wish to make public their criminal record would have to wait a minimum of five years after the end of their sentence before running for office.

The court also quashed Article 45(2)(k) of the law, which states that candidates running for regional office must present proof of never having been convicted by a court of a crime with a minimum prescribed sentence of five years.

Yandri Susanto, a politician from the National Mandate Party (PAN), criticized the ruling, calling it a step backward in Indonesia’s democratic march and undermining attempts to instate a system of checks and balances on power.

“It’s regrettable that the court only viewed [the issue] from a Constitution standpoint without looking at the realities and input from lawmakers, academics, NGOs and the public,” he said.

“Ethically it is inappropriate for an ex-convict to run for office,” he added.

The Elections Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu) said it would have to work even harder to ensure free and fair elections now that the court ruling allows convicted criminals to run for regional office.

The ruling came a day after the court struck down Article 7(r) of the same law, which stated that no one with “a conflict of interests” with an incumbent governor, mayor or district chief could run for the same post.

The article had been instated to prevent the formation of dynasties in regional politics, with many regional elections seen being won by the offspring, siblings or other relatives of the outgoing head, thanks to name recognition more than anything else.

The concentration of power in the hands of a select few families has given rise to massive corruption in regions such as Banten province, whose now-jailed governor, Ratu Atut Chosiyah, is the head of a clan that controls district and municipal administrations and councils across the province.

Yuddy Chrisnandi, the minister for bureaucratic reform, called both rulings “unethical.”

“It is inappropriate that in a political process that is getting more and more democratic and transparent we still find political dynasties,” he said in response to Wednesday’s ruling.

Fearing that incumbents might abuse their power to win votes for their relatives and cronies, Yuddy said his ministry would remind all public officials of the punishment they could face for failing to stay neutral.