Controversial Pick for Indonesia Police Chief

The appointment of Jakarta Police Chief Timur Pradopo, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's sole nominee for National Police chief, appears to be yet another indication of the Indonesian president's lack of strong commitment to the country's reformasi flame.

According to the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian language acronym KPK, Prodopo's net worth exceeded at least Rp 2.1 billion (US$235,000) as of 2008, primarily invested in real estate in the Tangerang area of Jakarta, valued at Rp1.3 billion, which he said was inherited. Pradopo also owns four cars worth Rp340 million, with the rest of his wealth in cash, bank deposits and precious stones and metals, the KPK said.

Despite criticism from human rights activists and political reformers, the appointment appeared to be just fine with both the new and outgoing police chiefs at the handover ceremony, with Pradopo breaking into "Sewu Kutho" ("A Thousand Cities"), a popular Javanese song, and Insp. Gen. Sutarman, the newly promoted Jakarta Police chief who takes his place, singing "Cucak Rowo" ("Straw-headed Bulbul").

Indonesia's police, both in Jakarta and on a national level, are notoriously corrupt. In July, Tempo, perhaps Indonesia's most respected publication, printed the names of six officials with as much as US$10.45 million in their accounts. They were Inspector General Mathius Salempang, Inspector General Sylvanus Yulian Wenas, Inspector General Budi Gunawan, Inspector General Badrodin Haiti, Commissioner General Susno Duadji and Inspector General Bambang Suparno. At the very top, police officials earn only about Rp15 million, or about US$1,600 per month.

Rather than investigating how the officials had amassed so much wealth, the police threatened to sue Tempo and whoever leaked the details of the accounts to a reform organization that passed them on to Tempo. Individuals believed to be connected to the police rushed around to Jakarta news venders and bought up 30,000 copies of the magazine in a vain attempt to keep it from circulation. Also, two black-clad men on a motorcycle were seen by witnesses throwing firebombs at the magazine's editorial offices in central Jakarta, causing relatively minor damage.

"The nomination of Timur Pradopo as the new National Police chief is a move by President Yudhoyono to appoint a man loyal only to himself to the post," wrote an analyst for the Jakarta-based risk consultancy Concord Review. Pradopo was suddenly promoted Monday to the rank of three-star general, which allowed him to become eligible to become National Police Chief.

"While there is much doubt that Pradopo has what it takes to turn around the troubled institution, at the least he is believed to be free of connections to ‘black' business tycoons," the analysis continued. "He is also said to be independent of the two major factions within the police, perhaps allowing him to do more than others could have done to clean up the force."

The police themselves reportedly have split into two camps over outgoing National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri's two initial recommendations to the president -- Nanan Soekarna, the police's Internal Affairs head, and Imam Sudjarwo, the chief of the police's Training and Education Division.

Members of Indonesia's House of Representatives said they planned to question Pradopo closely over his connections to the radical Islamic Defenders Front, a thuggish organization which has often resorted to violence to further its aims, including ransacking bars and attacking peaceful demonstrators, particularly rallies put on by the Ahmadiyah sect, considered to be a breakaway Muslim group. Allegations have persisted that the group is closely linked to Indonesia's security forces.

Pradopo, however, defended his relationship with the FPI (the Front's Indonesian acronym). "We should be close to all [groups] to maintain security in this country," he told reporters. Many secular Indonesian Muslims are opposed to the FPI's antisecular views and continue to criticize the police for failing to act against the hard-line group.

Human rights activists earlier this week also urged the House to reject Pradopo's nomination, saying he had a questionable track record, including his refusal to answer three summonses from the National Commission for Human Rights to clarify his involvement in the shooting of students in the Semanggi area of Jakarta in November 1998, when he was still active as chief of the Central Jakarta Police. In another 1998 incident, Pradopo allegedly was involved in the shooting of students at Trisakti University. Officers were implicated in both cases. Others cited deadly gang clashes outside the South Jakarta District Court last week and the "impression" that Pradopo had let the situation slip out of control. In a press conference, he denied the situation had gone out of control.

With Reporting from Jakarta Globe