President Joko Widodo speaks during an interview in his office at Istana Merdeka, the president’s official residence, in Jakarta, on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. (Bloomberg Photo/Dimas Ardian)

Jokowi Promises to Act on Police Chief Spat as Popularity Hit


FEBRUARY 03, 2015

Indonesian President Joko Widodo will decide this week whether to stick with a controversial pick for police chief, an episode that has undermined his political support and put his graft-fighting credentials in question.

“I hope this week I will decide,” Joko, known as Jokowi, said Monday in an interview in his office at his Dutch- colonial era residence in Jakarta. Asked which way he was leaning, Jokowi laughed and replied “you’ll know after I decide.”

Just days after Jokowi, 53, announced Budi Gunawan as his choice for police chief, the anti-graft agency named the three- star general a corruption suspect. Jokowi said Jan. 16 he had “postponed but not canceled” the nomination while the agency investigated Budi, prompting criticism from anti-graft activists.

Jokowi, a former small businessman who rose through the ranks of local government without the support of the major parties, became president after a campaign pledging zero tolerance on corruption and staking his reputation as a reformer.

Three months into his term the furor over his police chief pick threatens to become a distraction from his broader policy agenda in a parliament where he lacks a majority.

Faced with a public backlash if he proceeds with Budi, and with spiking tensions between the anti-graft agency known as the KPK and the police, as the police retaliate by moving against two senior KPK officials, Jokowi said he would uphold the rule of law. “I must respect the legal process,” he said.

The rupiah gained 0.4 percent, the most in two weeks, as investors look for a quick conclusion to the dispute following Jokowi’s comments, said Gundy Cahyadi, an economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd. in Singapore.

Police investigations

As the KPK investigates Gunawan, police have begun probes into senior officers at the anti-graft body.

Police are examining a complaint against KPK chairman Abraham Samad related to the issuance of a passport, said Ronny Sompie, a spokesman for the national police, and are looking at his meetings with politicians from Jokowi’s party. Samad was touted as a potential vice-presidential candidate for Jokowi last year.

Relations between the police and corruption fighters were once so marred by acrimony that dozens of officers barged into the KPK to try and arrest an agent investigating the chief traffic cop. Transparency International has described the police force as the nation’s most corrupt institution.

Ratings slide

Gunawan’s ties to former President Megawati Soekarnoputri could complicate the decision-making process for Jokowi as he seeks to show he’s free from influence. Budi was a personal adjutant of Megawati, who was president from 2001 to 2004 and heads the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, the party that backed Jokowi. Jokowi appointed Megawati’s daughter to a post in the Cabinet.

With his popularity sliding, former Jakarta governor Jokowi dismissed the possibility of impeachment, which would need the support of more than three-quarters of parliament. “There is still support from our party, our coalition,” he said, sitting at a desk at Istana Merdeka — or Freedom Palace — in front of a bust of India independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Former president Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur and Indonesia’s first elected leader after the downfall of dictator Suharto, was impeached in 2001 after less than two years in power, following claims of involvement in financial scandals.

Fallen popularity

Public satisfaction with Jokowi fell from 71.7 percent in August to 42.3 percent 100 days into his term, a poll late last month by Lingkaran Survei Indonesia showed. Of the 1,200 respondents, 53.1% were unhappy with his nomination of Budi for police chief.

“This sort of episode reminds us that he still needs to maintain a tight balancing act between the interests of his own party while maintaining his popularity in the public,” said Euben Paracuelles, an economist at Nomura Holdings in Singapore. “The longer Jokowi allows this to drag on, the more difficult it will be for him” to restore credibility on tackling graft, he said.

Jokowi downplayed the prospect of an alliance with opposition parties, having met last week with opposition leader Prabowo Subianto. Former army general Prabowo, Jokowi’s rival in last year’s presidential race, heads the Gerindra Party and his coalition has a parliamentary majority. Prabowo said in October he’d support Jokowi while being a critic on policies that would harm the nation.

Asked if the meeting could pave the way for an alliance, Jokowi said “there is no talk about that.”

Economics, politics

“Last week when I met Pak Prabowo we discussed about economics and also about politics,” said Jokowi, who takes a break while in his car by playing phone games and listening to Megadeth, Metallica and Queen.

As Jokowi nears his decision, Budi missed an appearance at the KPK last week for scheduled questioning. A hearing where he will seek to have the case dismissed has been delayed to Feb. 9, Kompas reported on its website. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The KPK was set up in 2003 to put teeth into anti-graft efforts across the world’s fourth-most populous nation. It has a 100 percent conviction rate and prosecuted 72 members of parliament, six central bankers and dozens of chief executives in the decade since it was formed in 2003, earning it the support of ordinary Indonesians.

‘Save KPK’

KPK Commissioner Bambang Widjojanto submitted his resignation Jan. 26 after police arrested him for allegedly ordering witnesses to give false testimony to judges ruling in a local election dispute in 2010. Bambang will be summoned for police questioning Tuesday, Ronny said.

The KPK, citing Bambang, said on Twitter that its fight against corruption would not be silenced. After Bambang’s arrest, protesters gathered outside the agency’s offices, shouting “save KPK”. Jokowi now needs to restore trust, said Paul Rowland, a political consultant in Jakarta.

“Indonesians are pretty forgiving in the end, but it depends on whether he takes enough action on the things they care about,” said Rowland.

Whatever his decision on Budi, Jokowi will seek to return focus to his planned reforms, including changes to tax collection.

“As a president I must make sure everything must be on track,” he said. “It’s only been 100 days. My work is for five years, so there’s still a lot that hasn’t been done.”