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    Southeast Asia
     Jul 2, 2009
Yudhoyono rides anti-corruption wave
By Patrick Guntensperger

JAKARTA - The conviction on corruption charges of a close relative to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has significantly bolstered his graft-fighting credentials just weeks before presidential polls set for July 8. Former Bank of Indonesia governor Aulia Pohan, the father-in-law of Yudhoyono's son, was convicted and sentenced in mid-June to four-and-a-half years in prison on embezzlement charges.

Some political analysts believe the timing of the conviction could be decisive for the Yudhoyono-Boediono ticket, which was already leading comfortably in most preliminary opinion polls. Those perceptions will have been strengthened by the conviction on Tuesday of ex-West Java governor Danny Setiwan on "collective corruption" charges, and the sentencing of a former supplier for

 

the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Erry Fuad, to over two years in prison for embezzling funds.

Corruption issues have featured prominently in Yudhoyono's presidential race against former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and incumbent vice president Jusuf Kalla. These contenders have tried unsuccessfully in public debates to portray the incumbent president as soft on graft and keen to curtail the powers of a highly successful counter-corruption agency which he has strongly supported from behind the scenes.

Yudhoyono first rose to power in 2004 on an anti-corruption platform, an issue that dominated that year's polls. True to that campaign vow, he has during his five-year tenure presided indirectly over the conviction of several top officials and politicians. Earlier, Yudhoyono was accused of netting more opposition-linked politicians and officials than from his own camp, but the conviction of Pohan has symbolically countered that criticism at a crucial juncture in the election campaign.

Since the Corruption Eradication Commission's (KPK) establishment, Yudhoyono has scored significant political points for the quasi-independent agency's take-no-prisoners approach. Although officially established in December 2003 under Megawati Sukarnoputri's administration, the KPK's record of independence, probity and an extraordinary 100% conviction rate developed and grew on Yudhoyono's watch.

The KPK has tackled Indonesia's endemic corruption head-on and in the process built former soldier Yudhoyono's international reputation as a good governance champion in one of the world's perceived most graft-ridden countries. Through May, the KPK investigated and prosecuted 143 cases, winning guilty convictions and prison sentences in every case. The fallen have included congressmen, mayors, regents, diplomats, former governors and legislative commissioners.

Despite that record, the KPK's future is in legal jeopardy. The KPK and its exclusive anti-corruption court were created as independent bodies with a mandate to investigate and prosecute crimes that caused extraordinary state losses. But the specialized court's mandate has come under assault from the Constitutional Court on the grounds it lacks "legal certainty" because other criminal courts also try corruption cases.

The court has been allowed to maintain its jurisdiction until the legislature debates and passes a new law to address the legal uncertainty issue, and decides whether to give the court permanent status. The current court's jurisdiction is scheduled to expire in December and unless the new law is passed by then it will be dissolved. In that scenario, the KPK, which is legally required to bring all cases before the anti-corruption court, would lose its prosecutorial authority.

Stalling tactics
Indonesia's legislature, known as the DPR, has stalled its deliberations of the proposed new law through weeks of debate on the proposed title of the new law, while largely neglecting the spirit and letter of the legislation. The DPR will adjourn in September, after which the debates over the anti-corruption court law would go back to square one under newly elected representatives. Analysts say it is a virtual impossibility that the law will be passed by September.

The threat to the KPK and its anti-corruption court has emerged as a hot campaign issue. All three presidential candidates have vowed to extend the anti-corruption court's jurisdiction by way of a presidential decree. But any such measure would need to be ratified by the DPR, which as currently configured - Yudhoyono's Democrat Party accounting for less than 8% of the body's seats - has locked horns with the KPK.

Apart from stalled deliberations on the fate of the anti-corruption court law, legislators have also bid to shut down the KPK altogether after its chairman, Azhar Antassari, was caught up in murder charges. Antassari has been named as a suspect in connection with the drive-by shooting death of a rival for the affections of a young female golf caddy. Antassari has maintained his innocence, but stepped down from his post to enter pre-trial detention.

The DPR claimed that the case had opened constitutional questions over whether deputies could share the duties of a deposed chairman. It has said that the KPK should be shut down and all its activities stopped until the disposition of the Antassari case was completed. Those calls died down after media criticism and conspiracy theories circulated that the Antassari scandal may have been a setup to hamstring the KPK while outgoing congressmen tried to secure their post-DPR retirements through corrupt means.

When the new legislature is seated, Yudhoyono's party will account for nearly 22% of the DPR's seats. But it's unclear if new congressmen from the rival PDI-P (Democratic Party of Struggle) or Golkar will aim to torpedo the anti-corruption court's future existence and by association undermine the KPK's viability. The mounting uncertainty over Yudhoyono's counter-corruption drive has caused many foreign investors to take a wait-and-see attitude on new capital commitments, seen in stagnant FDI and equity market statistics.

Political analysts believe the KPK's anti-corruption drive, despite being led by nominally quasi-independent agencies, has significantly bolstered Yudhoyono's chances of a second five-year term. While he has not been overtly involved in investigations or prosecutions, seen most clearly in the recent conviction of his family relation, many Indonesians perceive he has provided not-so-subtle support to the KPK's efforts.

Yudhoyono has also significantly maintained both the KPK's and the anti-corruption court's budgetary allocations in the face of economic crisis and despite the DPR's and the Attorney General's Office's calls for cuts, restrictions and limitations on authority. Outside of the entrenched power elite, Indonesians are hungry for the type of reform Yudhoyono has so far delivered and many voters hope he will accelerate in a second term.

Patrick Guntensperger is a Jakarta-based freelance journalist and political and social commentator. He lectures in journalism and communications at several universities and is a consultant in communications and corporate social responsibility. His blog is at: http://pagun-view.blogspot.com

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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