According to The Jakarta Post, Mahfud has announced his support for President SBY’s plans to require the Democratic Party to select its candidate through a primary system. While SBY’s second term expires next year, he is still the Democratic Party chairman and thus has some influence over the party’s internal governance.
In the interview, Mahfud is coy about how a primary system would affect his own presidential aspirations. However, given his general popularity but lack of influence amongst party bosses, it is easy to see Mahfud performing better in a primary. In fact, this could be a way for Mahfud himself to enter the Democratic Party and sidestep party elders. Moreover, given that most of the other major parties have already proposed presidential candidates, a primary system would have the most impact in the Democratic Party.
While I’ve previously stated that Mahfud’s chances at reaching the presidency are a longshot, my reasons for stating so were his lack of strong party organization. If he were in fact to be nominated by the Democratic Party, that would boost his chances considerably.
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.
While Burma’s new parliament has been seated for almost three months now, the Elections Commission has decided it will hear some of the complaints leftover from last November’s election. The statistics are revealing – of the 29 cases filed, 27 are by candidates from the pro-government USDP, while only 2 are from the opposition. However, another piece in an Irrawaddy article caught my eye:
A fee of 1 million kyat (US $1,136) is required to file an election fraud lawsuit with the authorities, and it carries a possible two-year jail term if the case is lost.
On Nov. 17, the EC told candidates who planned to challenge election results that they could be fined 300,000 kyat ($340) and sentenced to three years in prison if their accusations are deemed to be unfounded.
I have no background in election law, so I can’t really compare these punishments to other countries. However, they do seem somewhat harsh, especially given the vagueness of the term “unfounded accusations.” This all should discourage election-related litigation, and perhaps makes it all the more remarkable that opposition candidates have even filed any complaints. It will be interesting to see whether the cases are decidedly fairly. Last year, the commission received mixed reviews in that regard.
One might hope that by raising litigation costs, the commission would then decide any cases that it does receive impartially and efficiently. In other authoritarian regimes, high barriers to litigation or restrictions on the court’s jurisdiction have actually made the regime feel more secure in allowing some level of judges independence. For Burma, that might take some time, but might not be impossible over the longer term.
A few interesting developments from the region:
Burma: An opposition candidate won a case against a candidate backed by the military regime! According to DVB, the Election Commission dismissed a complaint by a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate that his opponent, Sai Moon from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), used armed groups to force people to vote for him. This is one of a handful of cases in which the courts have ruled against an elite figure. Even more interesting, according to the article other opposition candidates claim the Commission is handling such cases fairly. That’s certainly a rare bit of good news and hopefully a reason for hope that the country’s new judicial institutions will provide better services than they have since 1962.
Indonesia: No surprise that the latest news deals with corruption scandals. First, a while ago I blogged about the Gayus corruption case, in which a tax official bribed jailers to let him leave jail and vacation in, among other places, Bali. Now, the South Jakarta District Court has handed down a sentence. Seven years and a Rp. 300 million ($33,170) fine. However, according to The Jakarta Globe, many see this as too light a sentence for such flagrant abuses.
I have no basis upon which to judge these criticisms. I don’t know if the court was particularly lenient on Gayus or if any foul play was involved. Regardless, the outcry is a useful reminder of the distinction between justice in the abstract and the judicial process. It may well be that the masses demand a more stringent punishment than the system provides.
In another corruption case, judges visited the home of former National Police chief Susno Duadji to investigate claims that a broker visited the home in December 2008 to pay him Rp. 500 million ($55,000). This event is interesting from a comparative law standpoint. In civil law countries like Indonesia, judges can and often do take it upon themselves to investigate or confirm factual allegations by the parties. In common law systems, judges almost never leave the courtroom and rely solely upon the testimony of witnesses. Still, the article doesn’t explain how visiting a house will reveal what happened over two years ago.
Philippines: The war of words between the Aquino administration and the Supreme Court took another turn as Chief Justice Corona denounced a “propaganda war” against the Court’s recent judgements. According to PhilStar, the chief justice claimed, “There are people who went out of their way to disparage the decisions of the SC.” He particularly criticized those who attacked the judgments without actually reading them. Nonetheless, he was careful to clarify that the “propaganda war” attacked the judgments, not the justices themselves. Hopefully, everybody in the Philippines can keep that distinction in mind because it looks like the tensions between the court and presidency will remain for some time to come.
Senator Richard Gordon, a candidate in the Philippine presidential election, has sued SWS and Pulse Asia in the Quezon Regional Trial Court for publishing polls that show him lagging behind in fifth place. According to his campaign, the polls have hurt his campaign and rely upon outdated methodology. Here are some excerpts from a PhilStar article on the case:
Gordon asked for P100,000 in nominal and tem perate damages, P500,000 in exemplary damages, and P50,000 in attorney’s fees.
“Without regard to their fundamental duty to act with justice to observe honesty and good faith, defendants SWS and Pulse Asia, for pecuniary gain and solely for reasons intended to favor their moneyed clients, have published false, fraudulent, biased and defective surveys which have undermined the campaign of Senator Gordon and (former MMDA) Chairman Bayani (Fernando) and made them as unwinnable contenders for president and vice president, respectively,” the 26-page complaint said.
At times, Gordon even sounds like Republican presidential nominee John McCain:
Gordon, who was on a campaign sortie in Zamboanga City, said Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III maintained his lead in the surveys because of public sympathy rather than his performance in government.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the court deals with it – or if it even takes it seriously!
The Supreme Court of the Philippines issued another controversial decision this week, one that could have important implications for congressional elections. According to Phil Star, presidential candidate Senator Benigno Aquino petitioned the Court to invalidate R.A. 9716, which creates a new congressional district in Camarines Sur. He alleged that one of the districts only had a population of 178,000 people, below the constitutional thresh hold for congressional districts. He also worried that the move was intended to benefit President Arroyo’s son, Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo, and her ally former budget secretary Rolando Andaya, who are expected to win both seats.
The Court rejected Aquino’s by a 9-5 vote. They found that the constitution only requires 250,000 people for cities, not provinces. In fact, Chapter VI, § 5(3) of the Constitution states:
Each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.
At the very least, the drafting is poor and ambiguous. However, it seems that “province” is separated from the 250,000 population requirement. Other politicians have pointed out that the provinces of Batanes, Camiguiin, Siquijor, among others, have less than 250,000 inhabitants, and yet have their own congressional districts.
The significance of this case probably isn’t in the jurisprudence or doctrine – the outcome seems like a reasonable enough interpretation. However, the decision could impact Aquino’s political standing – either striking a blow to his candidacy, or increasing his reputation as the anti-Arroyo (my guess is the latter is more likely).