Back to school: Constitutional Court chief justice Mahfud MD explains his intention to return to being a lecturer when his tenure ends in April 2013. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)
Constitutional Court (MK) chief justice Mahfud MD, who announced on Wednesday that he would not throw his hat in the ring for another term, seems bent on going out with a bang.
In almost five years under his leadership, the court has made some progressive decisions that have garnered both praise and resentment.
Notable lawyer and activist Todung Mulya Lubis said that the court has supported reform by issuing a ruling that strengthens the Corruption Eradication Commission’s (KPK) authority.
The court ruled in August that the antigraft body was justified in investigating the driving simulator procurement scandal at the National Police Traffic Corps. The decision came amid mounting tensions between the KPK and the National Police.
And most recently, the court declared that the existence of BPMigas was unconstitutional because it degraded state control over natural resources. The business community lambasted the ruling, saying it created legal uncertainties for the country’s oil and gas sector.
“It is interesting to see that the court has started to issue populist rulings in the economic sector,” Todung told The Jakarta Post on Thursday in a telephone interview.
Questions, however, linger as to whether Mahfud, who will end his tenure in April next year, has made essential decisions on human rights issues.
The court refused to review the controversial 2008 Pornography Law in March 2010. The plaintiffs — ranging from women’s groups and activists to Balinese and North Sulawesi provincial administrations — deemed the law as a threat to local culture and women rights, and because it was based on Islamic values.
In the following month, the court rejected a review of a petition on the 1965 Blasphemy Law filed by groups and individuals, including former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid. The review request said that the law provided a legal basis for discriminating against religious minorities.
In spite of these controversial court rulings, Tjatur Sapto Edy, a deputy chairman of House Commission III, praised Mahfud, Indonesia’s second chief justice, as a productive leader who successfully maintained “the court’s reputation as a respected and trusted pillar of democracy”.
However, Tjatur criticized Mahfud as an individual who could not restrain himself from criticizing other institutions, including the House of Representatives.
Mahfud reported former lawmaker Muhammad Nazaruddin — who is serving a prison sentence for the Hambalang sports complex graft case — to the KPK early last year for trying to give a gratuity to a court official.
Mahfud, who was a lawmaker from 2004 to 2008, inflicted another blow on the House by bringing up money-related political practices in the bill drafting process. The House leaders were quick to deny the claim and warned Mahfud not to make reckless statements without facts.
The warning apparently failed to dissuade the 55-year-old Maduran man from taking actions he deemed appropriate in sensitive cases.
Mahfud has actively participated in the resolution of the KPK-National Police rift. Also recently, the chief justice urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to revoke clemency for drug convict Meirika “Ola” Franola.
“It is better if he tones down his statements a little bit. Before he was elected as chief justice, he promised us that he would not speak too much, but it turns out that he speaks a lot,” Tjatur told the Post.
Not everybody, however, sees his mixed track record, or his critical straightforwardness, as shortcomings.
Indonesian Sciences Institute political analyst R. Siti Zuhro said that Mahfud’s distinct personality might open the door for him to run for president in 2014.
“He definitely has a big chance to be president because people are now looking for a ‘crazy’ leader to solve their ‘crazy’ problems,” she said about Mahfud, who had served as defense minister during Gus Dur’s administration
According to a poll conducted by the Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate last year, Mahfud was among the favorites to run for president behind Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) chief Prabowo Subianto, a former leader of the Indonesian Military’s Special Forces Command, who has been shadowed by allegations of human rights violations. (yps)