By: Our Correspondent

Indonesia’s National Police appear to have finally overreached themselves in their drive to emasculate the beleaguered graft watchdog, the Anti-Corruption Commission [KPK], causing civic organizations to organize a national campaign to drive the chief of detectives from the force.

Cmdr. Gen. Budi Waseso, the detective boss, has been spearheading the campaign against the KPK, which is battling both the police and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle [PDI-P], headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is outraged that the KPK indicted one of her closest personal aides, Budi Gunawan, a day before the legislature was to confirm him as national police chief. President Joko Widodo was forced to withdraw his name. 

This week, Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-biggest Islamic organization, joined a national campaign to get Jokowi, as he is known, to fire Waseso. The action by the 30-million-strong Islamic organization and other civic groups is an indication that the public have finally awakened to the police drive against the KPK. 

Ahmad Syafii Maarif, the highly regarded former chairman of Muhammadiyah, earlier this week criticized Waseso as “mentally unstable,” accusing the police general of not understanding detective work and of not having “the least bit of competence or professionalism.”

Privately, local and Western sources agree that Waseso has a checkered reputation, at best.

The chief of detectives has pursued charges against 49 individuals connected to the KPK, the most effective antigraft agency in a country where the police, prosecutors and the judiciary are all seen as hopelessly corrupt. Behind Waseso’s drive is a squabble that started last January, when Jokowi refused to appoint Budi, sometimes called in the press Budi the Bagman, after the KPK named him a suspect.

Oh Mega

After Jokowi withdrew Budi’s name from consideration, the police reacted with fury, spurred on by Megawati, insiders say, who regards Jokowi as supremely disloyal after he ran under the PDI-P banner for the presidency a year ago.  The PDI-P secretary general, Hasto Kristiyanto, is alleged to be Megawati’s architect in defanging defang the KPK.

Earlier this year, a Jakarta court used what are conservatively described as unconventional legal grounds to say the KPK had no right to charge Budi.  It was the first time in the history of the agency that a trial court has intervened in an action.  The KPK usually operates through its own anti-corruption court. After the court decision, the police had all charges dropped against Budi, who was later named deputy police chief, an indication that the national police would ignore the KPK and worse.

Among the dozens of KPK officials the police have dragged into court are the former chairman, Abraham Samad, and his deputy Bambang Widjojanto, Although Waseso’s unit has gone after nearly 50 people, they have only begun investigating four other cases and named only 10 people as suspects, none of whom has so far been indicted. Waseso is accuseed of ignoring real crime.

In addition to the charges against Budi, the police are also seeking revenge for several other actions including the jailing last year of a police general on corruption charges, which to an aborted police drive to shut down the KPK. In 2009, a widely publicized case, dubbed “the gecko vs. the crocodile,” was the first major conflict between the KPK and the police. Graft watchdogs named Cmdr Gen. Susno Duadji, then head of detectives, as a graft suspect. Susno ridiculed the KPK investigation of the police force as like “a gecko challenging a crocodile.” The police responded by naming two KPK commissioners as graft suspects, and arresting then KPK Chairman Antasari Azhar for murder; he was convicted on charges widely seen to be spurious and remains in prison.

That kicked off an outpouring of public support that impelled then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to order an independent probe that cleared the KPK commissioners. Ultimately Susno was found guilty and jailed on unrelated charges. The chief KPK investigator in that case, Novel Baswedan, is currently the subject of an attempt by the police to prosecute him on charges that were dismissed previously. 

Muhammadiyah’s Ahmad Syafii Maarif, known popularly as Buya, has been one of Waseso’s most vocal critics since January.  “He’s mentally unstable if he can so easily name people as suspects,” Buya told an audience that included the president and the current KPK leadership on Monday. “I hope the nation no longer has to be led by someone as erratic as this.”

The Indonesian Civil Society Circle on July 15 joined Muhammadiyah’s influential youth wing to  originate a petition on Change.org calling for Joko to fire Waseso. So far more than 6,000 signatures have been gathered.

Jokowi has reaped a fair amount of the blame for the police boldness in going after the KPK. Virtually since the controversy began in January, his muted reaction, supported by his own political party, has raised public criticism.  The president was elected largely on his credentials as a reform-minded local politician after a successful stint as Jakarta governor with no tolerance for corruption. But he has been curiously quiet over the police assault on the KPK

Cabal of cronies

Haris Azhar, a coordinator at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), an influential human rights NGO, told local media a major part of the problem has been the president’s inaction.

“Everything is being ruined because of this quest for vengeance,” Haris told the Jakarta Globe on July 16, adding that Waseso was acting “as though the police are the only law enforcement institution in the country.”

“It’s time to fire the chief of detectives,” Haris said. “He’s not working the way the chief of detectives is supposed to work, but is instead carrying out a campaign of revenge for a cabal of cronies. If Waseso is really responding to public complaints, then what about all the cases of labor violations, the murder of [human rights activist] Munir [Said Thalib], the cases of violence against the press? Why is it that when the complaints are targeted against the KPK and antigraft activists, the [police’s] response is so swift?”

Muchtar Pakpahan, a labor rights activist with the Indonesian Prosperous Labor Union (SBSI) who in 2010 ran a failed bid to be appointed as a KPK commissioner, echoed the criticism of Waseso, saying that since he took office in January, “the detectives’ unit has been acting erratically.”