Hard Labor at the Constitutional Court


Patrick Grene and Pan Mohamad Faiz

* This article was published in The Jakarta Post – Tuesday, August 27, 2019

logojakposAfter the dispute over the presidential election was settled, many assumed that the duties of the Constitutional Court were at an end. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the conclusion of that trial until Friday, August 9, the Court was working harder than ever in the vastly complex legislative election disputes.

These elections determined almost the entire legislature. In addition to voting for the President and Vice President on April 17, Indonesians also voted for representatives for the DPD, the Regional Representative Council and the DPR, or People’s Representative Council. They also elected members of the DPRD, the provincial, regency, and municipal councils. Hundreds of thousands of candidates competed for over twenty thousand seats.

With such an enormous number of different elections, the controversies generated are legion. Such elections are frequently subject to accusations of corruption, as their small scale allows a relatively minor distribution of funds the potential to sway an election. Additionally, simple human error, bureaucratic mistakes, and miscalculations may have a profound effect, becoming increasingly likely to influence the outcome in smaller elections where votes are less numerous. The large number of political parties, sixteen nationally and four regionally, each of which may have an interest in mounting a challenge to any given election, exponentially expands the quantity of possible disputes.

The result has been some 260 cases, spread over more than twice as many electoral regions. Each case may involve disputed elections at various levels of government and for multiple different areas within each region, every one of which represents a separate issue that must be judged.

These are not simple cases that can be determined at a glance. Where a legitimate challenge exists, deciding whether an election followed correct legal procedure requires in-depth analysis of long lists of vote tallies and the review of copious amounts of evidence. Moreover, the simplest cases, where the evidence is clear, are discharged by BAWASLU, the Elections Supervisory Agency. The cases left to the Constitutional Court are tricky, complex, and time-consuming.

This is exhausting work. The nine justices of the Constitutional Court were split into three panels, in order to deal with the vast amount of cases they were assigned. Even so, the panels have been running for as long as eighteen hours a day, hearing witness after witness, weighing endless quantities of evidence, and devoting immense attention to ensuring that democracy prevails in Indonesia. Judges have been forced to sleep in the courthouse, unable to go home and rest.

While the judges bear a heavy burden here, as the decisions ultimately rest on their shoulders, the court staff have also been subject to huge demands. Receiving, organizing, and filing the evidence has taken massive effort, and the courthouse has been stuffed with boxes of voting records, filling any available space: evidence halls, storage rooms, and judges’ quarters, all crammed to the ceiling.

Transcribing the hearings was another monumental ordeal. The court had to hire numerous temporary staff for this task alone, and even then regular court employees took on twelve-hour shifts after completing their normal daily work. The near-infinite additional chores necessary to process these cases meant that almost no one at the court had more than a few minutes of free time each day. Staff frequently slept under their desks, or not at all.

This intensity of labor reflects an extremely, perhaps overly, narrow time frame allotted for processing these cases. Only thirty business days were permitted. With hundreds of cases to decide, this limit made a normal schedule impossible. That the Constitutional Court accepted the challenge and took such extraordinary efforts testifies to a conscientious acceptance of the importance of its task. For these elections to be democratically decided, each case had to receive the fair treatment it was due.

These cases, of course, came after the presidential election dispute, which likewise demanded enormous amounts of concentration and energy, and broke the previous record for the longest continuous hearing in the Court. The Constitutional Court has been working almost nonstop since that challenge was brought in May. This has meant months of intense, focused work for the court. While immensely important to Indonesian electoral democracy, it has also been immensely exhausting.

The judgments, announced from August 6 through 9, bring a great relief to court employees, who relish the thought of a return to regular working hours.

Patrick Grene is a researcher at the Center for Constitutional Studies (PUSaKO) of Andalas University and a candidate for a doctoral degree in law (JD), William & Mary Law School, United States.

Pan Mohamad Faiz is a senior researcher at the Constitutional Court

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