Crime Expert Turned Constitutional Guardian
After years being an educator, Aswanto found himself becoming one of the nine guardians of the Constitution. Although he had often been invited to speak at the Constitutional Court (MKRI), he had never imagined that he’d become a constitutional justice.
The criminal law professor of Hasanuddin University had often worked with the Constitutional Court before he became a constitutional justice. He often spoke at election dispute training at the Constitutional Court's Pancasila and Constitution Education Center in Bogor. “I was involved [in the election training for] ten political parties, out of all twelve. The main theme [I talked about] was election dispute,” Aswanto said.
He was entrusted by the Constitutional Court to be one of the three members of the selection committee alongside Laica Marzuki and Slamet Effendi Yusuf to nominate members of its ethics council. The Law Faculty of Hasanuddin University, which he chaired, is one of the universities that the Constitutional Court partners with to offer video conference facilities to justice seekers.
Teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students at Hasanudin University made the Palopo-born man busy. After former chief constitutional justice Akil Mochtar was arrested by the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) in October 2013 for bribery relating to an election dispute, Aswanto and his friends stressed that Akil’s replacement must have integrity, something Aswanto’s friends and colleagues thought he had. “My friends said that, as we were always protesting from fringes, maybe it was time for us to get into the system. I was convinced to do it,” he said.
For him, presiding over a court hearing is totally different from giving a lecture. As a constitutional justice, his duty comprises investigating and adjudicating cases. Constitutional justices also convene to pass a ruling. “We deliver our opinion to the other justices. We all have our own views and principles, but we convey them in a friendly atmosphere. Interesting, right?” he said.
Aswanto’s path to being a constitutional justice was far from smooth and full of hurdles. His bold character as a dean made him unpopular among some of his colleagues. His candidacy was met with a smear opinion piece, which also targeted his family.
During the selection process with the House of Representatives (DPR), the board of experts questioned Aswanto about the slandering opinion piece, which he calmly denied. “I asked the House Commission III to take my oath to clarify the truth. Some of the things in the piece was true, for example that I was a criminal law expert who applied to be a constitutional justice. However, my dissertation probed into human rights, and I was appointed chief of the South Sulawesi [Elections Supervisory Committee],” he disclosed.
His educational background as a criminal law expert was also questioned as prospective constitutional justices usually have background in state administration. He admitted that he had diverse educational backgrounds. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Hasanuddin University, he studied national defense at Gadjah Mada University. He went on to earn a doctoral degree from the Law Faculty of Airlangga University, where he wrote a dissertation on human rights.
“Human rights are laid out in the Constitution. I headed an elections supervisory committee, [so I’m familiar with] election matters. People said that the Constitutional Court is more about state administration, but actually it concerns all aspects in national life,” said the committed lecturer.
Childhood and Family
Aswanto spent his childhood in Komba Village, Palopo, South Sulawesi. After graduating middle school, he continued his studies in Makassar. “There were not so many high schools in Palopo, and they were too far from my village,” he reminisced.
He regards his parents the main figures behind his successful career. His father, who sent him and his six siblings to university, was a teacher who always urged him to endlessly learn.
His wife and children support every pathway he takes. His friends and colleagues in CSOs and the university are also supportive.
Aswanto, whose hobby is reading, is now learning state administration. He even planned to co-author a book in state administration with some friends. He also enjoys music and is surrounded by it. “My wife is a musician. My mother-in-law was also a singer. My children seem to inherit their mother’s talent. But I’m just a listener,” he concluded the interview.