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Politics

Widodo faces crisis over police chief saga

JAKARTA -- The power struggle surrounding Indonesia's search for a new chief of police escalated Friday morning with the arrest of prominent anti-graft official Bambang Widjojanto on charges of inciting perjury.

     Widjojanto is deputy head of the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials as the KPK. The agency had earlier indicted Budi Gunawan, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's nominee for police chief, on charges of accepting gifts and bribes.

     Nursyabani Katjasungkana, a lawyer with the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, said that Widjojanto's arrest was a retaliation against the KPK by the police.

     "This cannot be separated from the context of the KPK investigation into the nominee for chief of police, Katjasungkana said, speaking at the Jakarta police station where Widjojanto was being detained.

     Earlier, National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Ronny Franky Sompie said: "We have enough evidence that he asked a witness to provide a false report before the court."

     Following Widjojanto's arrest, some of Widodo's former supporters took to Twitter to voice their anger at the president, with the hashtags #SaveTheKPK and #WhereAreYouJokowi trending alongside an older #ShameOnYouJokowi variant. Indonesia has around 70 million Facebook users and 30 million Twitter accounts.

     Widodo temporarily suspended Gunawan's nomination on Jan. 16, despite an overwhelming parliamentary vote the day before in favor of the appointment, a vote that itself appeared to ignore public outcry over the president's choice of nominee.

Maneuvering for influence

Since the Jan. 13 indictment against Gunawan, relations between Indonesia's police and the KPK have deteriorated in what appears to be a fast-moving power struggle. Lawyers for the police have filed a pre-trial petition with the South Jakarta district court challenging the KPK's investigation. The police have already cleared Gunawan of corruption, and several officers called to testify at KPK hearings have refused to show up.

     "The police have declared his (Gunawan's) account to be reasonable. We must believe that," said Tedjo Edhy Purdjianto, the minister for politics, law and security, in a recent interview with Tempo, a weekly Indonesian newspaper.

     Before Widjojanto's arrest, lawyers for Gunawan had filed a report with the attorney general's office alleging "abuse of power" by the KPK.

     H.M. Prasetyo, the attorney general, is another of Widodo's controversial appointments, widely thought to have been chosen at the behest of Surya Paloh, a wealthy media mogul. Paloh is the founder of the Nasdem Party, which backed Widodo's presidential campaign. Prasetyo resigned his party membership after accepting the nomination for attorney general.

     Gunawan himself worked under Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), when she was president from 2001 to 2004. Widodo was the PDIP's candidate in last year's presidential election, held after the party won the most votes in parliamentary polls.

     It is possible that Widodo nominated Gunawan as part of a deal with his patron Megawati, who was thought to be opposed to Widodo's appointment of Luhut Panjaitan, a close ally of the new president and a former ambassador to Singapore, as his chief of staff.

     Discussing Widodo's appointments, Djayadi Hanan, a political science lecturer at Paramadina University in Jakarta, said, "I think Jokowi has been overshadowed by his backers in those cases," adding that, "I think it is part of the wider compromises that the president must make."

     In addition to stoking conflict between the KPK and the police, Gunawan's nomination has prompted senior Indonesian politicians to criticize the anti-graft agency, whose investigations have led to the imprisonment of numerous leading politicians and lawmakers, including a former chief justice.

     "For us, KPK has been involved in politics, maybe in internal police politics or others," Fadli Zon, deputy speaker of Indonesia's parliament, said on Jan. 20.

     Hasto Kristiyanto, a senior PDIP member, later alleged that KPK chairman Abraham Samad had stalled the agency's investigations into the PDIP in an attempt to persuade the party to choose him as Widodo's running mate in the 2014 presidential election.

     Kristiyanto subsequently told the Nikkei Asian Review that his statement "was not related to the KPK as an institution."

     The accusations against Samad came after pictures showing him kissing an Indonesian beauty queen appeared online. The KPK said the photographs had been doctored.

     Dedi Haryadi, deputy head of the Indonesian wing of Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, said the KPK should look into Kristiyanto's claims against Samad, but also cautioned that the KPK should not delay its investigation into Gunawan.

     "President Jokowi should support the KPK," Haryadi said. "He should pick a new candidate [for police chief] regardless of waiting for the outcome of the KPK investigation."

Early misstep

Widodo, Indonesia's first president from outside the country's governing elite, was elected after successful tenures running Jakarta and Solo, a midsize city in Central Java. During his presidential campaign, Widodo promised to tackle corruption, which is widely cited as an impediment to doing business in Indonesia.

     The crisis over his police chief nomination follows a political victory for Widodo in overcoming a divided parliament shortly after his election.

     In late 2014, it looked as though defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto would be able to use his command of a majority in parliament to undermine Widodo's attempts at reform.

     However, on the back of falling oil prices, Widodo has eliminated gasoline subsidies. Legislation restoring directly elected mayors -- the system that allowed him to begin his political ascent in Solo in 2005 -- was passed earlier this week in parliament. Widodo has also gained cross-party support for a revised budget that would double spending on much-needed infrastructure.

     "I am optimistic that if the government of Jokowi and its economic team are able to convey real and logical reasons, the parliament will not have a reason to hinder it," Nugroho Wienarto, executive director of Transformasi, a Jakarta-based economics think tank, told the Nikkei Asian Review.

     Wienarto said high-profile improvements to Indonesia's roads, power supply and other infrastructure should boost the president's popularity, which is already flagging, just three months into his five-year term.

     A survey released on Jan. 21 by the Social and Political Study Center Indonesia showed that 51% of respondents were losing confidence in the president, in part because of controversial appointments such as that of Gunawan.

     "I think Jokowi simply underestimated the public outcry that the appointment would create because he probably thought that the police were not all that important in the public imagination about reform," said Michael Buehler, a Southeast Asia specialist at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

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