After just six months as President of Indonesia, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo faces a crisis. Hampered by a lacklustre cabinet and an obstructionist legislature, his administration seems unable to stop a corrupt police conspiracy to destroy the country’s anti-corruption agency.
Jokowi was elected on promises to continue Indonesia’s hard-won post-Suharto reforms – especially the fight against Indonesia’s notorious endemic corruption. His victory was seen as a triumph over forces led by his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, who threatened to drag Indonesia back to the bad old days of crony authoritarianism.
Jokowi has not lived up to these high expectations. In particular, he has failed to defend Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK), which is now under concerted attack from powerful figures it has investigated.
Though only a little over a decade old, the KPK has emerged as Indonesia’s most trusted institution, with popular standing way beyond its actual achievements. Led by dedicated commissioners, it cut a swath through the political elite at all levels. In recent years it has successfully pursued dozens of serving and retired legislators and ministers – from all major parties.
The KPK has also targeted senior law enforcement officials, including police, although this has put it in great peril.
In 2009, the KPK tapped the phone of the head of police criminal investigations as part of a corruption investigation. The police retaliated by arresting two KPK commissioners on fraud charges, leading to their suspension. They were eventually reinstated after evidence emerged that the charges were fabricated. The chairman of the KPK was not so lucky. After a trial where no convincing evidence of his guilt was adduced, he was jailed for murder.
In 2012, the police obstructed a KPK investigation into the former chief of traffic police, Djoko Susilo. When KPK investigators searched police headquarters for evidence, they were held captive. The stalemate was broken only after then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono intervened. The KPK immediately pushed on with its prosecution of Susilo, and he was jailed for 18 years, leaving police bent on revenge.
The KPK is now facing its toughest challenge yet – again after investigating a senior policeman. Soon after Jokowi announced in late 2014 that he would appoint Commander General Budi Gunawan as police chief, the KPK revealed that it had been investigating Gunawan for corruption, and urged Jokowi to drop him. Instead, Jokowi appointed another senior officer as acting chief on an indefinite basis, and the controversy remains unresolved.
In retaliation, the police charged three of the KPK’s commissioners with offences that seem based on bogus evidence. In a move that is widely seen as condoning the police attack on the KPK, Jokowi suspended these commissioners. The police have now announced investigations into the KPK’s remaining two commissioners.
KPK investigators pressed on, however, charging Gunawan with corruption. In a bizarre twist, Gunawan successfully challenged this in a district court, which decided, contrary to clear law, that the KPK lacked jurisdiction to investigate him. Temporary KPK commissioners installed by Jokowi to replace those he suspended have now decided to drop the Gunawan case. To our knowledge, this is the first time the KPK has ever dropped an investigation after charging a suspect.
The attack on the KPK and its supporters only got so far because Jokowi is a weak and isolated president. He is the first Indonesian president not to head his own party. Instead, PDI-P is is led by a former president, the ruthless Megawati Soekarnoputri.
To Jokowi’s great embarrassment, PDI-P is heavily implicated in the attack on the KPK, as payback for the jailing of many of its members. He can do very little about this, because he needs PDI-P to get laws passed. Worse still, Megawati is reportedly very close to Gunawan and responsible for Jokowi endorsing him in the first place – and her party is still pushing for Gunawan’s appointment.
The result is that the KPK is now crippled, and Jokowi looks embarrassed and impotent. If he fails to subdue the police and his own party he could face a major political problem.
Civil society and social media networks have supported Jokowi so far because he is “their” president – an outsider elected on promises of change and anti-corruption reform. It was their concerted efforts that got him across the line in the dying weeks of the presidential election. But they are starting to panic. Despite Jokowi’s failures to date, civil society leaders remain reluctant to withdraw support for him, but the fear many now share that they might be the next target is palpable.
Having brought the KPK to its knees, the police seem to be trying to silence the commissioners’ strongest supporters in civil society, academia and elsewhere – again, by charging them on fabricated grounds. One example is Professor Denny Indrayana, former deputy minister for law and human rights under Yudhoyono and a prominent and courageous anti-corruption campaigner (and a visiting professor at the University of Melbourne). He was charged only a few days ago with corruption, despite police being unable to provide any real evidence of a crime.
The result is that many nervous civil society leaders are choosing to be silent where they spoke out loudly in 2009. Where are the pro-KPK demonstrations and public statements that galvanised opposition to the police back then? Even the media (with just a few exceptions) seems intimidated.
All this suggests civil society might abandon Jokowi if things continue to deteriorate. That could be catastrophic for him. Civil society gives Jokowi access to the masses on whom he relies, as he has such limited elite backing. If he loses popular support, the elite clique around Megawati could finish the process of turning him into their puppet. Worse still, he might even be impeached and removed entirely.
Jokowi’s government is facing a crucial test, and so is Indonesia’s anti-corruption reform process. Both are in deep trouble.
This article was first published in The Age.