By: Our Correspondent

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), widely considered the country’s most incorruptible public institution, has been facing unprecedented attacks recently under the watch of Joko Widodo, a president whose election last July was supposed to usher in a new era of probity in government.

But a seeming deal to both preserve and punish the KPK while removing a crooked police general from contention for national chief has emerged.The complex, opaque maneuvering seems to have Jokowi, as the president is known, losing some of his anti-corruption luster while gaining ground on some erstwhile foes.

The latest round against the KPK began when a South Jakarta District Court judge “annulled” the case against police General Budi Gunawan, a KPK bribery suspect who was previously Jokowi’s choice to be the new national police chief. While the annulment in itself is troubling and may be illegal, scholars say it has the potential to pave the way for other graft suspects to seek similar court action as a way of evading the KPK.

Despite the spurious action nullifying the charges against him by a court whose jurisdiction is even questionable, public pressure still forced Jokowi to drop Budi’s name as a candidate for chief.

The House of Representatives, which is held by the political opposition headed by Prabowo Subianto, whom Jokowi defeated for the presidency last July, had earlier voted to confirm Budi in a move that was seen as way to embarrass the president, who delayed the nomination after the KPK charges were revealed.

By Friday, however, the House including Prabowo’s Gerindra Party was going along with the Jokowi move and welcoming a new chief cop candidate. It looks as if what was up is now down and down up, with only Jokowi’s own political party still batting for Budi’s rise. Prabowo, an early supporter of Jokowi when he ran for governor of Jakarta in 2012, and Jokowi have met for talks recently aimed at building a working partnership.

Entrenched interests

From the time Jokowi was elected, it was clear that he would face unprecedented opposition from entrenched interests.  Budi is  the candidate of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who chairs Jokowi’s political party. He served as Megawati’s adjutant during her presidency from 2001 to 2004 and is said to have a very close personal relationship with her. The nomination  revealed deep fault lines among Jokoi’s nominal allies.

The backdoor maneuverings also have eroded the new president’s popularity, dismaying those who expected more from him. In the end, government sources say, the president is seeking to do an end run around Megawati and he will emerge stronger.

It hasn’t looked that way of late. In addition to naming a handful of politically suspect officials to his cabinet, he also appointed an attorney general with dubious credentials who is linked to another of Jokowi’s political party patrons. Most observers believe he has been bending to the wishes of Megawati, whose Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle [PDI-P] backed his bid for the presidency. In recent weeks among those criticizing the president for not formally pushing Budi into the new job have been members of PDI-P. They may have gone too far.

One political analyst in Jakarta told Asia Sentinel the KPK overestimated its clout in naming the police official a suspect immediately after Jokowi named him to the police chief post. “They overreached,” said a key Jokowi supporter. “They brought this on themselves.”

Threats and suspensions

That KPK decision to go after Budi generated threats and fueled police attempts to jail the graftbuster’s leaders on numerous bogus or conflated crimes.

In a televised press conference on Feb. 18, Jokowi said he would suspend temporarily the powerful chief of the KPK, Abraham Samad, and deputy chief Bambang Widjojanto because of charges brought against them by the national police. The charges have been derided as “cold cases” designed to cripple the organization. 

The two and another KPK official are to be replaced by Taufiequrachman Ruki, the KPK’s first chairman in 2003, Indrianto Seno Adji, a law professor, and Johan Budi, the KPK’s spokesman and deputy for corruption prevention.

One Jakarta analyst speculated that Jokowi was feeding the police a couple of scalps by suspending the officials, but in the final analysis he has managed to find a rationale to drop Budi and preserve the KPK.  The interim appointees are all strong advocates of cleaning up the justice system; the KPK will continue to do its work, it seems, while likely giving wide berth to the cops.

Can he battle the graft?

Still, the unsettling episode so early in his presidency has raised concerns about Jokowi’s determination take on elite interests.  The National Police are considered one of Indonesia’s most corrupt organizations although the courts, the legislature and much of the bureaucracy are similarly tainted.

Conversely, the KPK, since it began operations in 2003, has compiled a 100 percent conviction rate in 86 bribery and graft cases, earning criticism for using controversial tactics such as wiretaps and covert surveillance to nail some of the country’s most important politicians including top members of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party. There were widespread rumors last year that the KPK would go after members of Yudhoyono’s own family, which may yet happen.

The KPK’s most challenging confrontation was a previous run-in with the National Police in 2009, when suspect chief detective Susno Duadji  engineered the arrest of two KPK deputy chairmen on extortion and bribery charges. 

The KPK answered back by publicly playing tapped phone conversations revealing a conspiracy between Susno and the attorney general’s office to undermine the KPK. With widespread public support, the two were quickly released. Susno was eventually jailed on different charges. 

Yudhoyono was widely criticized during the 2009 episode for failing to act, which has also been the rap against Jokowi this time around. Jokowi has seemingly exhibited a lack of determination that is at odds with his presidential campaign and his service as Jakarta governor, where he made dramatic inroads on corruption in the city’s tendering process.

Jokowi insiders say he is biding his time, noting appointments he has made that have cleared out corrupt officials in the energy ministry and elsewhere.

Another bad cop

Along with withdrawing Budi’s name, Jokowi announced he would name interim police chief Badrodin Haiti. He appears little better than Budi. The investigative magazine Tempo reported in 2010 that Badrodin was among 23 police generals, including Budi, with suspiciously fat bank accounts well out of proportion to their modest salaries. Badrodin’s official wealth as of 2014 was reported at Rp8.2 billion ($635,000), up from Rp2.9 billion in 2002.  He also was said by Tempo to own a life insurance policy worth Rp1.1 billion, allegedly paid for by a third party.

In one of the more jaded developments, on Wednesday, Budi’s lawyer said his client himself had recommended to the president that Badrodin lead the police force.

“Any cop who becomes a general in this system is crooked,” said one analyst. “It’s a fact of life. Nobody is clean”

Meanwhile the judge who nullified the bribery case against Budi is coming in for his share of woes. “He has overstepped the authority of the pretrial hearing. He has violated the existing law. This will jeopardize the fight against graft,” Djoko Sarwoko, a former Supreme Court justice, told local media.

Sarpin’s decision, coming in a court that is widely seen to be for sale, was especially suspect because pretrial judges are not authorized to challenge the naming of a suspect, as in Budi’s case.

Eman Suparman, a commissioner on the Judicial Commission, said the body would hold a plenary meeting to decide whether to investigate Sarpin’s decision.