Indonesian Corruption Drama a Test for Yudhoyono

The president has to find the plot

It can be difficult to follow the nuances of the ongoing melodrama in
Jakarta pitting the police and the attorney general's office against
the nation's counter-corruption commission.

But a lot more is at stake here than the typical tale of infidelity or
unrequited love that one might expect from an Indonesian sinetron TV series.

Less than a month after he was sworn in for a second five-year term, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
has seen the saga involving the commission, known here as the KPK, and
its various enemies, chiefly the police, threaten to overshadow what
should be a time of consolidation following his sweeping election
victories in the last year.

Yudhoyono has called for
Indonesia to achieve strong growth, become a leader in Asia and join
the ranks of developed countries on the back of his plans for reform
and a strong domestic economy. He had not apparently reckoned on an
early political crisis.

The KPK issue is becoming a national
obsession. Hundreds of thousands of people have joined a Facebook
protest over the arrest of two KPK deputy commissioners by the police
on what now appear to be trumped-up charges. Watchdog groups,
politicians, religious leaders and reform-minded activists of all
stripes have kept up a constant drumbeat of outrage over the
president's inaction while the entire nation seems transfixed by the
One thing seems abundantly clear: in today's Indonesia,
with its freewheeling press, growing online communities and desire for
real reform, messing with the KPK is perilous. It is a lesson Yudhoyono
is learning the hard way.
On Tuesday, the nation breathlessly
tuned in as the Constitutional Court played wiretapped recordings made
by the commission of a businessman whose brother is on the lam over
corruption charges apparently conspiring to frame the commission for

The plot involves the police and the attorney
general's office — both of whom have been targets of the KPK at various
times — trying to cook up charges against two deputy commissioners of
the corruption body. In one passage a death threat was even made
against one of the accused commissioners.

[On Thursday morning, the chief of detectives for the National Police, Susno Duadji, who was behind the charges against the KPK officials and who has also been the target of a corruption investigation, resigned, as did a deputy attorney general named on tape. Meanwhile, a member of the fact-find body appointed by the president to investigate the mess also stepped down, saying the police are ignoring the group's recommendations.]

Juicy stuff and on
Tuesday it must have been the top rated drama in the country as people
were glued to their televisions watching and listening to the

"Totally busted is the right way to describe
[the police]," went an editorial in the normally conservative Republika
newspaper on Wednesday. "They have incriminated two deputy chairmen of
the KPK for the sake of protecting those who are corrupt. They have no
dignity anymore."

At the end of it all, the two deputy
commissioners, who were arrested by police last week, were released
from detention late Tuesday while the matter is sorted out by a
presidential fact-finding commission appointed earlier this week after
massive public pressure could no longer be ignored.

the conspiring businessman caught on tape, Anggodo Widjojo, was
detained on Tuesday but by Wednesday police were saying that he had not
committed a crime since the bribes he discussed on tape were to be
given to a civilian co-conspirator not a government official.

Don't be. The point is really pretty simple: it has been obvious for
months that powerful forces were trying to derail the KPK, which is
arguably the only government body in Indonesia that has ever been able
to do anything about the nation's endemic corruption. It has jailed
businessmen, lawmakers, cops, crooked prosecutors and central bank
officials — including one of the president's in-laws.

the KPK has powerful enemies is beyond question. What is even more
obvious this week is that it has millions of friends — ordinary people
in Indonesia who want something better for their country than to be
known as a cesspool of graft.

But Yudhoyono — whose name was
invoked on the tapes by Anggodo and who has denied any involvement in
the carnival of sleaze — was doing little or nothing to defend the KPK
until the public pressure started to lap at the shores of his own
political bastion.

When lawmakers tried to dilute the
commission's power at the end of the last House of Representatives'
term in September, Yudhoyono largely stood on the sidelines. When the
police slowly unveiled the apparently spurious charges that resulted in
the arrest of deputy commissioners Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra M
Hamzah, the president was silent, save for saying he would not
interfere in the due process of law.

It was only when his own
name surfaced on transcripts of the wiretapped conversations last week
that the president made his displeasure known.

Now he has
reached a point where he has to lead. "The public support was amazing,
we are overwhelmed. Justice has started to show its face," Bibit said
shortly after he and Chandra were released from detention.

has become a fight in which Yudhoyono's political legacy may face its
greatest challenge. He is the strongest political leader in Indonesia
since the fall of Suharto in 1998. He has overwhelming control of the
legislature and he had a resounding victory in July for a second term.
But he has been governing as if he is afraid of upsetting the police or
displeasing insiders. That has to stop or his claim to be reform minded
could fall on a nation of deaf ears.

In the KPK matter, he has
seemed content to straddle the fence, allowing the police to do as they
please and waiting for time or the courts to sort it out. That will no
longer work. He does not have to interfere in a court proceeding but he
does have to demonstrate that he wants to see the country's law
enforcement bodies put right.

This week's events have shown the
public to be firmly behind the KPK and its uphill battle against a
shameful legacy of corruption. The next step is Yudhoyono's. He must
lead an effort to overhaul the practices of the attorney general's
office and the police — consistently rated by the public as the most
corrupt institution in the country — if he is going to seize the
initiative and start directing the soap opera instead of just being
another viewer.

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