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Indonesia fights corruption with people power

In Indonesia public protests, secret recordings and an alleged plot among senior law enforcement officials to undermine the anti-corruption agency have transfixed the country.

The BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta takes a look at the scandal that is being called Indonesia's Watergate.

A protest in Jakarta against the detention of two officials from the anti-corruption agency on bribery allegations - 5 November 2009
Indonesians believe many senior officials are corrupt

Ask any Indonesian about corruption and chances are they will tell you that at some point in their lives they have had to deal with it.

Whether it is paying a bribe to get out of a traffic fine or slipping some extra cash to an official at the immigration office, corruption, many here say, is unfortunately a way of life - it is in the culture.

It is a depressing fact, but a reality that Indonesians have become used to.

But now something has changed.

Fed up and frustrated with the levels of graft within the institutions that are charged with the responsibility of protecting them, Indonesians have taken to the streets in what is being called one of the grandest showings of people power since the days of the 1998 Reformasi movement.

At the time thousands of Indonesians came out on the streets of Jakarta to demonstrate against then-President Suharto, demanding that he resign from his post after three decades of authoritarian and often unjust rule.

This time the demonstrations were not so dramatic - but they were effective all the same.

'Court mafia'

Hundreds of Indonesians came out on the streets of Jakarta to protest against what they saw as an outrageous injustice.

Singing songs against the Indonesian police, and in support of the anti-corruption commission, they gathered at the city's main roundabout, chanting for the dismissal of the police chief and officials in the attorney general's office.

The Indonesian public believes that the anti-corruption commission has become a target of the police and the attorney general's office because of its reputation of putting corrupt officials behind bars - even those in high places.

Budi - Jakarta resident - 6 November 2009
Maybe it's just individual police doing bad things - but if a lot of them do it, then the entire institution is also to blame
Budi, Jakarta

Indonesia is often ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by international watchdogs.

The anti-corruption body has received popular support because so many Indonesians are often victims of corruption in their own land - and there is not much they can do to fight back.

When Indonesians realised that one of the few government bodies they actually believed in - the anti corruption commission - was becoming a target of the police and judiciary, they decided they were not having any of it.

Many here respect the KPK, as the powerful corruption watchdog is known, and have little faith in the police or the judiciary - which Indonesians have dubbed the "court mafia".

The sentiments of 20-year-old Budi sum up how many Indonesians feel about these institutions.

"I think the public aren't satisfied with the work of the police," he said.

"Just look at how they behave on the streets. Maybe it's just individual police doing bad things - but if a lot of them do it, then the entire institution is also to blame."

Ika, 29, agrees.

"The image of the police and the prosecutors isn't good amongst Indonesians," she said.

"Many people doubt their honesty. They're involved in many cases, from the streets to those involving institutions and those we read in the newspapers."

Heads roll

This lack of trust in the very forces that are supposed to protect the Indonesian public was reinforced after listening to controversial wire-tapped recordings this week.

Indonesians across the archipelago sat transfixed for hours as the tapes were broadcast on national television.

Discussions on the tapes, allegedly between members of the police, the attorney general's office and a businessman, revealed the speakers were involved in plans to significantly weaken the KPK by framing the powerful agency.

Susno Duadji, who resigned as head of the police force's national investigations unit - testifies to a fact-finding team investigating the corruption scandal - 6 November 2009
Chief police investigator Susno Duadji was forced to resign

The public demanded that heads must roll - and they did.

Two of the country's most powerful and influential men resigned from their jobs - Abdul Hakim Ritonga, the deputy attorney general and Susno Duadji, the head of the national investigations unit.

Their names were some of those mentioned in the wire-tapped conversations.

In an attempt to calm the public uproar, recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed to his citizens that clamping down on corruption would be a cornerstone of his 100-day plan.

"I say to the people of Indonesia, who feel like they have become victims of this mafia in the past, or perhaps even now are a victim, to report this," he said in an address to the nation on Thursday night.

"Let's make our system clean."

The Indonesian president encouraged his citizens to work with him in the fight against corruption.

He has introduced a novel method of rooting out rotten officials: there is now a post office box address where Indonesians can send their letters of complaints about any corrupt officials they have come into contact with, and he has promised to respond.

Promises

But political analysts say the president will have to do a lot more than just make promises.

"The president is going to handle this very carefully," said Sunny Tanuwidjaja from the Centre of Strategic and International Studies.

Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - 30 October 2009
President Yudhoyono has promised to clean up corruption

"There will be a big push for reform, but I think its going to be slow. The public wants change and this is an opportunity to make the police institutions more open and transparent.

"It's a big incentive for Yudhoyono to push for true reform in the police. But whether he will do that really depends on his judgement."

A lot is riding on how the Indonesian president handles this case. This is the first crisis of his second term in office - a term that many thought would go smoothly because of his past track record.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was re-elected in July in part because of his vows to clean up corruption in the country.

He now has to show the public who voted him in that he will stay true to his word.



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SEE ALSO
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