Jakarta (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 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 anti-corruption agency, known as the KPK, named Gunawan as the subject of a bribery investigation, prompting Widodo to postpone – but not cancel – his appointment as police chief.
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 paralyse 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,” Yohanes Sulaiman, a political expert at the Indonesian Defense University, told AFP.
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 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.