Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Indonesia, Police Go Toe-to-Toe with Anticorruption Agency

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Indonesia, Police Go Toe-to-Toe with Anticorruption Agency

Article excerpt

A power struggle between Indonesia's police force and an independent anticorruption agency is roiling President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, just two weeks after he began his second five- year term.

The row has raised questions over Indonesia's commitment to fighting chronic corruption and provoked a public outcry at the hardball tactics of the police, which is going toe-to-toe with the anticorruption agency.

Protesters in Jakarta rallied for the second day Tuesday over the arrest last week of two senior officials of the elite agency, known as the KPK, which has successfully prosecuted government officials and politicians for graft. The two men are accused by police of abusing their power during an investigation into a collapsed bank, and both deny the accusations. They were released Tuesday but still face charges.

Protesters say the case is spurious and motivated by revenge, part of an ongoing pushback against the KPK by police, politicians, and prosecutors. In September, the outgoing parliament passed a law to dilute the power of ad hoc judges - who are seen as cleaner than career judges - to try anticorruption cases brought by the KPK.

Graft busters have fought back: KPK wiretaps leaked to Indonesian media appear to show that the police officials and prosecutors plotted to entrap the two commissioners, Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Rianto.

Scandal taints president's clean image

The wiretaps have inflamed public opinion and caught Yudhoyono on the back foot after he insisted that the legal process must run its course.

Amid a storm of criticism, including a Facebook protest that attracted more than 300,000 users, President Yudhoyono switched course Monday and named a fact-finding committee to look into the wiretap revelations. The committee is packed with prominent reformers and is likely to come down hard on any misconduct by police and prosecutors.

That may provide a face-saving exit for Yudhoyono, who was reelected in July and styles himself as a clean pair of hands in a country awash in graft. Indonesia was ranked 126th out of 180 in a 2008 global index by Transparency International, up from past years but still below neighboring countries like Malaysia and Thailand.

Yudhoyono's reputation has already taken a hit, however, as he was slow to go to bat for the KPK, says Kevin O'Rourke, an independent political analyst in Jakarta. "The president has definitely suffered a severe blow to his credibility on clean governance. But clearly the chance exists for him to reverse the situation," he says.

Choppy progress against corruption

Opinion polls in Indonesia show ingrained cynicism over corruption in government agencies, including the police and legal system. Under dictator President Suharto, who was forced out in 1998, graft was centralized and brazen. Efforts to clean up the system initially floundered, despite widespread calls for reform. …

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