Category Archives: Mahfud

Mahfud’s on top (almost) (Indonesia)

A few days ago, I posted news that Mahkamah Konstitusi Chief Justice Mahfud MD is leaving the court after his term expires next year. I speculated that this is directly linked to his presidential ambitions. Lo and behold, a new poll from Lembaga Survei Indonesia finds Mahfud to be one of the most popular potential presidential candidates. Over 74% had a favorable impression of his leadership ability (second only to Jusuf Kalla at 79%). Moreover, Mahfud scored highest on a question asking about general positive image (79% versus Kalla’s 77%).

A caveat is that the poll does not necessarily ask whom respondents will vote for. Voters can of course respect a candidate but for various reasons choose another, perhaps because of a specific policy proposal.

Nonetheless, it seems the question is not if, but how, Mahfud will run. From the polls alone, a Kalla-Mahfud pair sounds unbeatable. Mahfud, as Javanese (Kalla is from Sulawesi) might even make more sense at the head of the ticket. But all we have thus far is speculation. My guess is that Mahfud will have a more difficult time passing the first round of the presidential voting than the second. In other words, he’d need enough name recognition and a political party apparatus to support his bid and make it past the first round.

Mahfud’s response to all the speculation has certainly not been Shermanesque. According to The Jakarta Post, his response to the speculation was:

I can’t decide now because it will affect my present position as chief justice with the Constitutional Court, as well as at my [academic] institution. Let’s wait until after my term expires in April.

Which sounds like a good reason for retiring from the MK!

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Mahfud’s heading out (Indonesia)

Chief Justice Mahfud announced recently that he will not seek a second term as chief justice of the Mahkamah Konstitusi. When going through his confirmation hearings, Mahfud promised to be less outspoken and to not “legislate from the bench”. However, the chief justice has become a mainstay in the public media, often commenting about hot-button political issues. The court has also taken an increasingly populist turn under his watch. Recently, the MK declared BP Migas unconstitutional because it undermined state control over natural resources.

Many suspect that Mahfud’s stepping down next year will allow him to run for the presidency in 2014. As a former professor of Islamic law, Mahfud has Islamic credentials without being too “fundamentalist”. His decisions from the bench and lack of corruption scandals both allow him to portray himself as a populist. Given the relatively weak presidential field next year, he has a fair shot at president or vice-president. The biggest question might be which party he chooses to join. He was a DPR member from PKB from 2004-08, but I could imagine him forming an alliance with a larger party to pass the electoral threshold for fielding a presidential candidate.

The Jakarta Post has a brief retrospective.

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