In July 2014 Joko Widodo became the fourth elected President of Indonesia since the resignation of Suharto in 1998. It was a meteoric rise from furniture maker to leader of the fourth largest democracy in the world. Identifying as a politician from outside the system, he was elected as a leader that had the ability and desire to clean up Indonesian politics. Halfway through his first term, has the man affectionately known as ‘Jokowi’ managed to maintain this reputation?
The 2014 election was a decision between the old and the new. Jokowi was a stark contrast to his opponent, Prabowo Subianto. A prominent figure in Suharto’s military, Prabowo was a member of the Indonesian political and military elite. With a dubious human rights record, Prabowo was entrenched in the political system and representative of the previous era of Indonesian politics.
The former governor of Jakarta won the election by 6.3%, rejecting the conservative Prabowo and beginning a new chapter in Indonesian politics. It was a statement against the long history of political corruption - the public all to familiar with top figures using office to line their own pockets. Jokowi, the grassroots politician with the face of a farmer was now entrusted to clean up Indonesian politics by challenging the corruption, patriarchy and nepotism that is rife.
A key to assessing whether Jokowi can make good on his election platform is to monitor the health of the internationally well-regarded Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission). Established in 2002, the KPK has been hailed by Indonesians and foreign observers alike, as a shining light in the battle of corruption. Operating with a remarkable 100% conviction rate, the commission has the mandate to pursue high profile targets, refusing to buckle to political pressures. However, recently there have been serious concerns for the future wellbeing of this important institution.
Trouble began with the selection of Jokowi’s first cabinet. The cabinet was a mixture of little known technocrats and experienced career politicians, with his selections handed to the KPK to be screened before being appointed. Jokowi’s selection for Chief of Police, Budi Gunawan, was named by the KPK as a graft suspect and recommended he not be appointed. Before Jokowi had the chance to reverse his decision; the parliament quickly approved the decision with the backing of influential ex-President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Sukarnoputri, long time ally and confidant of Gunawan, was seen as a powerful figure in Jokowi’s decision to appoint him. It was the first moment of realisation for many Jokowi supporters of the political game he would have to play in order to work with a complicated parliament.
In retaliation to the KPK’s finding, Gunawan and the police went after its commissioners in a clear attempt to permanently weaken the institution. KPK commissioner Widjoyanto was initially detained on trumped up charges, with the remaining commissioners all being investigated. The aggressive action by the Gunawan was derided by numerous NGO’s and provoked public outrage. More recently, the parliament appointed five new commissioners to the KPK, with Jokowi endorsing the selections. Many experts have criticised the choices as an attempt to curtail the investigative nature of the KPK, describing all but one of the new commissioners as lacking the necessary desire and experience to be effective in the role.
Despite the strong rhetoric of Jokowi to stamp out corruption, his first term continues to been plagued by corruption. Along with the continuing KPK saga, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was stood down in December 2015 over high-level corruption allegations. While the forest burnings in Sumatra and Borneo are believed to be linked to ongoing local corruption.
The upcoming period in Jokowi’s first term will be crucial to whether he maintains his reputation as a politician from outside the system that can confront the presence of corruption within the political elite. Strengthening the KPK and defending its mandate will go a long way to achieving this. And with such positive public support for the KPK and for himself (Jokowi’s current approval ratings sit at approximately 65%), it would seem the President has the mandate to enact this change.
It is clear Jokowi faces numerous obstacles to overcoming systematic corruption. With resistance from his own coalition as well as opposition parties, enacting positive change whilst maintaining effective working relationships within political circles will be a difficult balancing act. If Jokowi cannot manage this, he risks losing his image as a leader that serves the interests of the common people in villages across the vast archipelago. A key supporter base that got him elected in the first place. More importantly, Indonesian advancement may be curtailed for many years to come if Jokowi does not aggressively pursue his anti-corruption agenda in the near future.
Nathan Vadnjal holds a Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) from RMIT University.