Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Nomination of police boss triggers political dilemma for Indonesian President Widodo

LONG-RUNNING FEUD:The nation’s police force has long been at odds with the anti-corruption agency KPK, but now it is threatening to bring charges against all KPK leaders


Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) workers display placards reading “Save KPK” during a rally in Jakarta on Friday as they protest against Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to nominate Budi Gunawan, a three-star police general, to head the national police force.

Photo: AFP

A feud between Indonesia’s law enforcement and its corruption watchdog over the nomination of a police chief has escalated into a full-blown crisis for President Joko Widodo, testing the new president’s pledge to usher in cleaner governance.

Barely 100 days into his term, Widodo sparked an outcry last month when he nominated Budi Gunawan, a politically connected figure with a murky financial record, to be head of the national police.

The situation snowballed several days later when the Corruption Eradication Commission, known as by the initials of its name in Indonesian, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), named Gunawan as the subject of a bribery investigation, prompting Widodo to postpone — but not cancel — his appointment of Gunawan.

The notoriously corrupt police — who have in the past clashed with the hugely popular KPK — retaliated by arresting the agency’s deputy chairman on years-old perjury allegations, triggering angry protests.

The deputy chairman has resigned, and police are now threatening to bring charges against the KPK’s entire leadership, a move that the agency warns could paralyze it.

Activists rallying day after day outside KPK headquarters are urging Widodo, who comes from a humble background and is Indonesia’s first leader from outside the political and military elites, to intervene, but so far the president has taken a cautious approach to a scandal that is proving the first real test of his leadership.

“If he blunders in this KPK case, his image of running a clean government, he can kiss it goodbye,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a political expert at the Indonesian Defense University.

Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, is under immense pressure to make a decision about Gunawan’s future, but is backed into a corner.

Pressing ahead and installing a known criminal suspect as police chief would shatter his clean credentials, but Widodo risks revolt from political allies if he dumps Gunawan.

Parliament, which must endorse new police chiefs, has already backed Gunawan, and many parties — including from Widodo’s own coalition — want to see him inaugurated.

Gunawan used to be a close aide of former Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of Widodo’s political party who backed him for the presidency, and many suspect she is the one who is continuing to push the officer’s nomination.

Widodo is seeking to buy time as he mulls a way out of the crisis. He asked a team of hand-picked advisers to recommend a course of action, and they said he should not press ahead with the nomination.

While he now seems likely to reject the nomination in the coming days, Widodo is facing accusations of dithering like his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was frequently criticized for his indecision.

Former KPK deputy chairman Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas, one of the special advisers assisting the president, said Widodo wanted to please, but was more firm than his predecessor.

“I think there is a strong will to solve this problem as soon as possible,” he said, adding he did not think Widodo would go ahead with Gunawan’s inauguration.

However, activists fear every day that passes puts the KPK in greater jeopardy. If police level accusations against the remaining commissioners they will be forced by law to stand aside, hollowing out the agency’s leadership.

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