A few weeks ago, I’d mentioned a report about changes to Indonesia’s Mahkamah Konstitusi. In particular, the legislature passed a law stripping the court of its jurisdiction over election disputes, particularly dissolution of political parties. (Of course, this very function has been at the heart of Thailand’s constitutional politics recently). Now, some Indonesians seem to be rallying in support of the court. According to The Jakarta Post, Pong Harjatmo, a former actor, has asked the Constitutional Court to strike the law down. Pong alleges that, “The people vote for a political party during elections. But after the party wins and gains political control, the people seem to lose the right to control the parties”
This presents an interesting question about the relationship between democracy and judicial review. Many Western scholars bemoan judicial review as an undemocratic constraint on the popular will. However, in many cases, courts have acted to enforce rights that elected governments chose to ignore. Of course, one such case is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to abolish segregation. Now, it seems some Indonesians hope their Constitutional Court can play a similar role, protecting them from the corruption and abuses so prevalent in Indonesian politics.
We’ll see whether these efforts are successful. The biggest question is whether Pong and his fellow protestors gather more support. So far, while Indonesians have complained about corruption, the Constitutional Court has been viewed as a minor player. It seems citizens would have to believe that the Court would play a larger role in enforcing fundamental rights in return for public support.