Category Archives: indonesia

Take bribes from both sides, then rule fairly… (Indonesia)

Partly corrupt or corrupt impartiality?

Well, after all of that drama, it turns out that the person who allegedly bribed Akil Mochtar won his case before the Constitutional Court after all. According to The Jakarta Post, the MK ruled that Gunung Mas Regent Hambit Bintih did not engage in systematic fraud during the election. Obviously, given the corruption charges against Akil, many will be suspicious of this outcome.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time a judge solicited money for a decision that he had already decided. Judges can abuse the information asymmetry that exists between the bench and the litigants to encourage parties engage in bidding to ensure their victory. (Nick Cheesman has written quite a bit about this type of corruption in Myanmar)

Or, as Sir Francis Bacon famously said, “I usually accept bribes from both sides so that tainted money can never influence my decision.”

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Filed under Akil Mochtar, corruption, indonesia, Mahkamah Konstitusi

Getting worse all the time (Indonesia)

As if a bribery scandal were not enough, according to The Jakarta Globe the KPK now claims to have found marijuana and ecstasy in Akil Mochtar’s office in the Constitutional Court.

There are also more reactions, as Mahfud calls on Akil to resign and Indonesian Corruption Watch urges the KPK to widen its investigation to other allegations of corruption against Akil. President SBY said in a statement that the scandal is even more serious because it potentially means that some Constitutional Court decisions were wrongly decided, and given that decisions are final and binding they would interfere with the democratic process.

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Filed under Akil Mochtar, corruption, indonesia, Mahkamah Konstitusi

BREAKING NEWS: CJ Mochtar arrested

Back in April, I posted news about Akil Mochtar’s election to the chief justiceship of the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi). I had mentioned that a few years ago Justice Akil was accused of bribery in a district elections case from North Sumatra. I had speculated that while Chief Justice Akil was cleared of all charges, the allegations might taint his term.

Apparently, corruption has come back to Chief Justice Akil. According to The Jakarta Post, the chief justice was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) over bribery charges earlier today in connection to a dispute regarding the Gunung Mas Regency elections. The KPK says it seized Rp. 3 million from Akil Mochtar’s house and also arrested several other lawmakers.

Obviously, this incident could have huge implications for the MK. Up until now, the MK has had a relatively clean reputation. I suspect this news will shatter that image and disappoint many Indonesian anticorruption activists. Senior Advisor on Governance in Justice Partnership (Partnership), Laode M Sharif – my former colleague at the Asia Foundation in Jakarta – expressed his surprise and disappointment. I expect more to come.

More important than the immediate reaction will be how the rest of the MK handles the scandal. Will the justices be able to decide on a public relations strategy? Will the abandon Mochtar or stick with him? Will the MK wait until the KPK formally charges Mochtar? Until the end of the trial?

This is the beginning of a new era for the MK. I’m heading to Indonesia soon and will hopefully learn more while I’m there.

UPDATE (03 October 2013):

The Jakarta Globe reports more reactions to the news of Akil Mochtar’s arrest. The condemnation has been widespread. Former MK Chief Justice Jimly has allegedly suggested the death penalty would have a strong deterrent effect against corruption. Former Chief Justice Mahfud MD has said publicly that Akil Mochtar should cooperate with the investigation. Also reports coming out tomorrow explain the charges levied against Akil Mochtar.

According to Viva News, the MK has already recommended suspending Akil Mochtar and assigned his cases to other justices. Significantly, it appears that, while they have not embraced him, the other justices have not tried to defend him. According to Deputy Chief Justice Hamdan Zoelva, the MK will also launch an internal investigation.

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Filed under Akil Mochtar, corruption, indonesia, Mahkamah Konstitusi

The Toilet Incident (Indonesia)

Unfortunately, another day, another corruption scandal in Indonesia. According to The Jakarta Post, this time, Supreme Court justice candidate Sudrajad Dimyati was observed handing lawmaker Bachruddin Nashori of the National Awakening Party (PKB) an envelope while in a bathroom.

These instances of corruption are sad and frustrating for rule of law reformers in the country. However, they also raise an interesting theoretical question. Why do judges and lawmakers engage in cash transactions in order to effectuate political agreements? Given the risks in being exposed, why wouldn’t lawmakers make other compromises with judicial candidates? 
For example, in the U.S., there is often an implicit agreement that judges appointed to federal court will rule in politically acceptable ways (i.e., Democrats rule in favor of liberal causes, Republicans for conservative causes). This allows lawmakers to claim political credit for policy victories and minimizes the risk of scandal (after all, Democratic voters want judges to support their causes, and vice versa for Republican voters). 
I suspect part of the reason we don’t see such “policy-based corruption” in judicial appointments is that the Indonesian Supreme Court typically does not adjudicate politically salient issues. The court hears thousands of appeals each year, many of which deal with minor traffic issues or other criminal infractions. The justices have limited discretion over their docket (although my understanding is that some reforms are being proposed to exclude cases below a certain threshold). As such, we see little political mobilization around the content of Supreme Court decisions. 
The value of the decisions is relatively high for the litigants involved, but relatively low for other stakeholders. If I’m right, this means that if lawmakers are going to extract value out of judicial nominations, it must be at the nomination stage and not in future decisions. By contrast, I suspect Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) cases are more likely to affect policy and act as a veto on lawmakers’ policies. As such, in MK fit-and-proper tests, we do see MPs expressing more concern about how justices will rule once they reach the bench. To my knowledge, there have been no allegations of cash transactions in the appointment of MK justices. 
It would be interesting to compare media coverage of Supreme Court decisions with those of the Constitutional Court to see if and how often they do become politically salient. Perhaps a future paper.

UPDATE: The Jakarta Post is reporting another instance of alleged corruption during the process of nominating a judge. This time, Democrat Party Dasrul Djabar is alleged to have attempted to influence the Judicial Commission in return for an endorsement of a particular judicial candidate.

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Filed under corruption, indonesia, Supreme Court

News Roundup

Unfortunately, I have been too busy over the past month to discuss developments in Southeast Asia, but the region hasn’t stood still. Here’s a roundup of recent news:


  • Former Mahkamah Konstitusi chief justice Mahfud MD has declared that he would not participate in the Democrat Party primary. He expressed his concern that the results of the primary would not be respected (source: Jakarta Globe).


  •  The Hluttaw has convened a joint committee to review and propose amendments to the 2008 Constitution (source: New Mandala).  It expects its report to go to the floor by the end of this year (source: Eleven Myanmar). While the review process is generally going to be closed, the NLD has been campaigning to make the process more open to the public (source: Eleven Myanmar). Meanwhile, Speaker Shwe Mann has sent mixed signals, suggesting that he would consider changes to the eligibility requirements of presidential candidates but would not bow to outside pressure (source: Myanmar Times). By contrast, Shwe Mann recently announced his support for federalism while speaking in Shan State (source: DVB). Federalism of course had until recently been considered anathema by senior military leaders.
  • The Hluttaw is also considering an amendment to the bill on writs. According to Legal Affairs Committee chairman Thura Aung Ko, currently decisions on writs are often decided only by a single justice, which leaves petitioners at the mercy of individual justices. The amendment would require cases to be decided by a bench (source: Myanmar Times). Melissa Crouch has an article about the history of writs in Myanmar (source: I-CONnect).

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Filed under Burma, indonesia, Myanmar, News Roundup