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Constitutional Court Justice: We Have to Restore Public Trust
Tuesday, 27 June, 2017 | 20:00 WIB
Constitutional Court Justice: We Have to Restore Public Trust

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Saldi Isra's life has changed drastically since April 11, the day President Joko Widodo appointed him as a Constitutional Court (MK) Justice. He had to move to Jakarta, give up his career as a lecturer of the Andalas University, Padang, which he held for the past 22 years, abstain from writing in the media and withdraw from many of his social circles. "It's been a 180-degree turn," Saldi said three weeks ago during a ride, as his car, a black Toyota Camry guided by a motorcycle escort, waded through Jakarta's notorious evening traffic. 

The constitutional law expert succeeded Patrialis Akbar, who became a graft suspect last January. Saldi said he was still not used to the police escort, but is resigned to follow established procedures. He was rushing to catch a flight to Padang, West Sumatra, where his wife and three children live. Saldi, 48, means to keep the promise he made to his eldest child that he would come home every weekend. 

During the ride from the Constitutional Court building on Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat to the Soekarno-Hatta airport, Saldi talked to Tempo's Reza Maulana and Nur Alfiyah with much candor about why he became a constitutional justice. He also revealed the Court's shortcomings, and why constitutional court judges continue to get entangled in bribe scandals. 

Saldi, currently the youngest judge at the Court, also expressed surprise that President Jokowi, who summoned him during the set up of the October 2014 Cabinet, did not hold discussions with him prior to the appointment. "That leaves me with a big question mark," he said.

There are rumors that you were chosen because of your ties to President Joko Widodo. What's your response?

I met the President several times and he asked for my opinions, but can this be translated as closeness? I criticized both Jokowi and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. I wrote books--a compilation of my writing--titled 10 Tahun Bersama SBY (Ten Years with SBY) and another titled Hukum yang Terabaikan (The Law Neglected) which criticizes Jokowi-JK's legal policies. Both are harsh. That's the duty of academics: appreciating the good, criticizing the bad.

As you were nominated by the President, did you receive any specific messages from him?

No. I also think that's strange. When I was in the constitutional judge selection committee in 2015 (which elected I Dewa Gede Palguna), I recalled that Pak Palguna was summoned by the President before being sworn in. But Pak Jokowi only spoke very briefly to me. 'Congratulations Prof. Saldi! Please watch over the MK.'

Why did you wait till the last day to apply for the constitutional judge position?

I needed a lot of time to decide. First of all, I had never shed my identity as a constitutional law lecturer of Andalas University since I started there. If I got the job (as a judge), then I would have to leave it behind. Secondly, I've always followed all major events related to the constitutional law: either as a personal involvement, or I was asked for my opinion. If I became a judge, I would have to restrain myself and no longer express any opinions. That would be a 180-degree change.

Your family was reportedly also against it?

My eldest daughter (Wardah Ikhsaniah, 17) didn't want me to take the job. She still has not agreed, even now after the final announcements have been made. She relented after much persuasion from her mother, but only on one condition: I have to go back to Padang every weekend.

Do you know why?

I don't know. When I was summoned by Jokowi in 2014, she also objected fiercely. Maybe she's afraid after seeing so many public officials embroiled in controversy, particularly since I am replacing someone caught in such a case.

What finally prompted you to move ahead?

 If I became the constitutional court justice, I would give an opportunity for the new generation at Andalas University's Constitutional Studies Center. Perhaps all this time, their careers have been hampered because of me. Secondly, I felt challenged by Refly Harun, Zainal Arifin Mochtar and Mahfud Md who made a remark about the comfort zone of professors and critics. I couldn't think of any party, including the MK, that had not ever asked for my input and opinions. I have been repeatedly offered to be in selection teams for various public positions. And after I became the President Commissioner of Semen Padang, people said I had it all, and that I had nothing to worry about anymore. That's what struck me the most.

Did you apply right away after that?

Pak Mahfud said that if I didn't enter the MK now, it would mean I didn't want to pave the way for a new generation to enter the Court. I was considered a representative of that new generation of Indonesian constitutional law experts. Previously, there were Pak Jimly Asshidiqie, Mahfud Md., Yusril Ihza Mahendra. So I said bismillah, and made a trip to Jakarta to personally apply and hand over my files. I did it to express my seriousness, although I could have simply sent it in by post, or via email.

Who is the best Chief Justice of the MK, in your opinion?

People look at the first generation (the tenure of Jimly Asshiddiqie from 2003-2008) as a great era. Actually, the public trust had gone up a bit (after MK Chief Justice Akil Mochtar was nabbed by the KPK in 2013), but plummeted again after the Patrialis case.

What is the most important thing you wish to do as a constitutional judge?

I dream that, together with the other eight judges, we can restore public trust in the constitutional court.

Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine



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