By: Our Correspondent

In a demonstration of his growing sway, President Joko Widodo has put his foot down against a move in the House of Representatives to push through legislation designed to weaken Indonesia’s fearsome Corruption Eradication Commission, the country’s anti-graft watchdog.

“Jokowi slowed [the amendments] down,” said a Jakarta-based businessman. “He has the legislature under control. It is not a formal deal, but we understand this to be the case.”

The president met with leaders of the House of Representatives this week to forge an agreement to postpone the discussion of revisions to the 2002 Law on the Corruption Eradication Commission that would have altered the methods of conducting investigations, weakened its authority to conduct wiretapping, changed recruitment protocols and established a supervisory body to monitor the agency. Critics say the moves would effectively neutralize the KPK.

He has drawn the support of Gerindra, the party headed by his presidential election rival Prabowo Subianto, and the Democratic Party headed by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – whose own administration was crippled by investigations into numerous scandals including the construction of a sports complex, bribes in the energy ministry and crookedry related to the annual Haj pilgrimage. Three former Yudhoyono ministers are already in prison due to KPK action.

Just stop

Following the meeting with House leaders, Jokowi said he respected the House’s efforts on the amendments, but said it wasn’t ready for deliberation.

“I think we need more time to strengthen the plan and to disseminate more information about it to members of the public,” he told reporters. The administration earlier agreed to work on revisions of the law on the condition that they would strengthen the agency. 

The amendments clearly weren’t going to do that. The KPK, as the organization is known, has already been weakened somewhat by less-than-attractive appointments to the leadership. Nonetheless, it remains by far the most potent force in the country against official misdoings, achieving a 100 percent conviction rate on the 86 cases it has completed since it came into being in 2003 and opening investigations against many more from the district level up to cabinet ministers – many of its targets members of the House of Representatives.

Although he caused concern over his lack of zeal during his first year in power, Jokowi has come alive since last August, when he replaced a few hacks in his cabinet with technocrats and reformers. On the economic side, he has cut red tape, removed obstacles to investment and taken steps to open the country to foreign investment.. In his most recent move, his administration indicated that laws forcing mining interests to build highly uneconomic smelters would be delayed, while considering deregulation across the board.

The move to shortstop the weakening of the KPK comes at a welcome time. To the distress of reformers, he has remained largely silent as the KPK and the police have traded arrests of each other’s officials since January 2015.