Jokowi’s police go unpoliced

Author: Jacqui Baker, Murdoch University

Rarely do the police figure in studies of politics. Of all the institutions of the state, police are the great wallflowers of the political party. They are not known for their great generals or their formidable political veto power. And yet, six months into the much-anticipated presidency of Indonesia’s Joko Widodo (Jokowi), 
it has been his failure to manage the complex and nuanced politics of the police that has not only brought about the downfall of Indonesia’s highest crime-fighter but exposed Jokowi’s personal and political weaknesses.

 A speaker rallies the crowd at a demonstration in support of the KPK in February 2015. (Photo: AAP).

When rumours spread around Jakarta that Jokowi was intent
 on replacing the National Police Chief, General Sutarman, there
 was understandably some surprise. After all, Sutarman was a reasonably competent cop, nominated by the last administration and still with a solid six months to his term. But a new administration often requires new leadership and so speculation turned to a handful of names of similarly passable officers who might replace him. In principle, the president, in consultation with the National Police Commission, is free to nominate multiple candidates whose names 
are then put forward to the House 
of Representatives to assess. On 9 January 2015, Jokowi followed his predecessor’s practice by nominating a single candidate: Budi Gunawan.

That Gunawan would be one of
 the names in circulation was also no great surprise given his closeness
 with Megawati Sukarnoputri, Jokowi’s political patron and the head of his party, the PDI-P. Gunawan served as adjutant during Megawati’s presidency and vice presidency. Within police circles, Gunawan is known as a major broker, able to insert himself in the most powerful and lucrative networks. As assistant to the Deputy for Human Resources under former police chief General Sutanto, Gunawan’s personal wealth had inexplicably ballooned.

Later stints as chief of police in Jambi province and then at police headquarters as head of internal affairs further amplified his authority. Although Gunawan had been cast out under Sutarman to the political wilderness of police education, this did not limit his financial prowess. His 2013 personal wealth statement was 21.5 billion rupiah (about US$1.7 million). Such was the extent of Gunawan’s wealth, and the speed with which he accumulated it, that Gunawan was repeatedly rumoured to have one of the ‘fat police bank accounts’ monitored by the Center for Indonesian Financial Reports and Analysis.

Indonesian civil society and intelligentsia reacted to the nomination with shock and outcry. But in the days that followed, Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) took matters one step further. The KPK had reportedly red-flagged Gunawan in their review of potential ministers for Jokowi’s new cabinet. Just four days after Jokowi’s nomination of Gunawan, KPK head Abraham Samad and deputy Bambang Widjojanto declared the would-be police chief a corruption suspect.

The KPK has long believed itself to be the moral guardian of Indonesian democracy. A number of public statements from Samad in the first months of Jokowi’s term implied that not only was the KPK’s authority above and beyond that of the president but that his very electoral success 
had been aided, at least in part, by KPK’s tacit endorsement of him as a clean candidate. Throughout Jokowi’s campaign and early presidency, the commission had made its political preference for his presidency clear, even taking out rival Prabowo’s coalition mate Suryadarma Ali mid-campaign on corruption charges.
 Yet even in this highly politicised environment, the KPK’s retrospective announcement of corruption charges on a presidentially endorsed appointee was at best courageous and, at worse, downright provocative.

In the fracas that followed, the Gunawan nomination was stalled, and at considerable cost for all involved. General Sutarman was swiftly
 retired and his Chief of Criminal investigations ousted, replaced by Budi Waseso, a key Gunawan ally. Badrodin Haiti, an unremarkable deputy police chief who himself has been accused of having a ‘fat bank account’, ascended to take on the top job.

But even Haiti wasn’t informed when, ten days after the KPK’s naming of Gunawan as a corruption suspect, criminal investigators under Waseso arrested the KPK’s Bambang Widjojanto. In the subsequent weeks Waseso has been relentless, resurrecting numerous cold cases against Samad and two other KPK deputies, effectively wiping out the KPK’s leadership and threatening its remaining investigators with criminal charges.

Most recently charges against two KPK deputies have been dropped, but Samad and Wijojanto remain under active investigation. Samad was detained briefly in late April while Wijojanto’s case file is currently being bounced back and forth between Polri and the attorney general’s office. An important KPK investigator, Novel Baswedan, who was in charge of a bribery case implicating a PDI-P legislator, has been arrested. Meanwhile Waseso’s office has wrested control of the Gunawan corruption case after a Jakarta court ruling, a first in the history of the KPK.

Given their fractious history, it is hardly surprising that the police would respond so aggressively. In 2009, the KPK clashed with the police over the arrest of a police general, which saw two KPK commissioners arrested on fabricated charges, while in 2012 a spat over the procurement of traffic simulators saw the police attempt to raid KPK offices ostensibly to arrest an investigator on trumped-up charges.

But in the years since their last public battle, the two institutions have increasingly come to an 
uneasy acknowledgement of their interdependence. In large part this is because the KPK has finally accepted that if Indonesia is ever to be free of corruption, then the KPK will have to give up its monopoly stake in the war against it.

There is a strong legal basis for further narrowing and refining of KPK’s role. Although the KPK has made its name by investigating and prosecuting corruption, the legislation states clearly that the KPK’s principal job is to coordinate and supervise the corruption investigations of other law enforcement institutions, particularly the police. The KPK’s belated understanding of the shared nature of the fight against corruption has been, for the police, a major source of frustration and has fuelled accusations that the institution is an arrogant super-body.

The current dispute is not all about functional overlap. The KPK enjoys public support that is unprecedented for an Indonesian state institution. Meanwhile, the only poll that the police seem to top is Transparency International Indonesia’s ‘most corrupt’ perception index. And yet KPK investigators are nothing more than police officers on secondment. It’s in the well-resourced, respected halls of the KPK that police officers reach new heights of investigative skill and professionalism.

Former National Police Chief General Sutarman and Chief of Criminal Investigations Suhardi Alius understood that if the police were going to improve their public image, then the force would have to lift its game in corruption investigations. The way to do that was to attract this cohort of well-trained investigative officers back to the ranks of the police. By revamping and refunding their Special Unit for Corruption Crimes and stocking it to the brim with
 newly returned KPK investigators,
 the previous leadership indicated that they were both serious about an anti-corruption drive and that people-to-people relations would spearhead the relationship.

The Gunawan affair has revealed just how quickly institutional lines can be drawn. Waseso’s dark comments about cleansing the police force of ‘traitors’ suggest that the time of rapprochement, and by extension, any hope of a coherent and consolidated anti-corruption drive, is for now well and truly over.

But the current push against the KPK is not just fuelled by a history of institutional rivalry. The depth and success of this attack on the KPK suggests that the police are supported by the highest echelons of the political establishment.

The KPK has unsurprisingly few friends in parliament and the past few years have seen a number of failed legislative attempts to weaken the agency’s authority. But this time, the political attacks on the KPK by Indonesia’s fractured parliament have coalesced behind the driving force of Megawati Sukarnoputri, head of the PDI-P and Jokowi’s political patron. Last year, the KPK reopened an investigation into the terms under which then president Megawati, by presidential instruction, released a number of companies from the obligation to repay their money 
from a Bank of Indonesia bailout. In the months before his arrest, KPK head Samad was forthright in his promise to bring Megawati before the commission. That case has now been dropped.

Megawati has scarcely appeared in public since the Gunawan nomination, but her ruthlessness and obstinacy in the face of public fury speaks volumes about the dynamics of her relationship with Jokowi. During the storm over the Gunawan nomination, Megawati sat regally silent while party hacks like Effendi Simbolan mused openly on the possibility of a presidential impeachment with a spite to rival anything that has so far come from the KMP opposition.

PDI-P has revealed itself to be an insular, often myopic party, even when this threatens the credibility of its very own government and with little affection for the man who put them there.

Megawati has been unflinching in her support for Gunawan, even in the face of public outrage. Budi Gunawan’s recent appointment as deputy national police chief, in a hastily organised closed ceremony, illustrates just how 
little space the president has with his political partners for compromise.

While PDI-P has exposed its 
true colours, the real damage 
has been done to Jokowi himself. Jokowi’s performance has been one of blundering, foot-dragging and a desperate lack of political smarts. From the beginning, Jokowi appeared unprepared for the indignation that the Budi Gunawan nomination would ignite, highlighting not only his patchy grasp of portfolios that don’t immediately interest him but also his inability to use his inner circle for strategic advice.

These weaknesses we glimpsed during his poorly organised, often flatfooted, presidential campaign. 
But the politics of the police have stripped Jokowi of his reformist image, revealing a man who not only appears lacking in political acumen and leadership skills but is also hemmed in by the very forces that are supposed to be on his side. If in just six months of the Jokowi government the KPK — Indonesia’s most celebrated state institution — can be brought to its knees, then one wonders what’s in store for the long four-and-half years ahead.

Jacqui Baker is a Lecturer in Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University and a Fellow at the Asia Research Centre.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Asia’s Minorities‘.