Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) leader Prabowo Subianto, who has his eye on another bid for the presidency in 2019, knows a losing cause when he sees one – even if many of Indonesia’s tone-death political parties don’t.
Heeding widespread public condemnation, Prabowo’s opposition party has pulled out of Parliament’s critical inquiry into the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK), saying it was the “wrong step” and would only weaken the fight against corruption.
That leaves President Joko Widodo’s own Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) and five other ruling coalition partners — Golkar, the United Development (PPP), National Democrat (NasDem), People’s Conscience (Hanura) and National Mandate (PAN) parties — still on what many see as a shameful crusade to defang the anti-graft agency.
The National Awakening Party (PKB) is the only government party that is not represented on the inquiry panel, while former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s centrist Democrat Party (PD) joined a walk out when the action was hastily approved at a plenary session last April.
Interestingly, Prabowo and Yudhoyono are reported to be actively considering a possible alliance in 2019, with speculation centering on the former president’s eldest son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, as a possible Prabowo running mate.
The 38-year-old retired infantry officer failed in the first round of last February’s Jakarta gubernatorial election, but critics blamed his father for a strategy that had his son playing the Islamic card instead of appealing to the youth vote.
Parliament launched the inquiry after the KPK understandably refused a request to hand over copies of testimony by Hanura lawmaker Miryam Haryani, a key witness in the 5.9 trillion rupiah (US$172 million) electronic identity card scandal that has implicated various political parties, including Widodo’s PDI-P.
The ongoing investigation has already led to the indictment of House Speaker and Golkar party chairman Setya Novanto, who is accused of being the mastermind behind Parliament’s largest single corruption case since the birth of Indonesia’s post-Suharto democratic era.
PKP chairman Agus Rahardjo claims Novanto took a direct role in the front-loading of the 2009 budget process, which effectively doubled the cost of the project, and in subsequently rigging the tenders.
Haryani, 43, who is now facing perjury charges, has knowledge of the illegal flow of funds from the grossly inflated identity card procurement project to as many as 50 other legislators.
The KPK claims senior politicians pressured Haryani to recant the testimony she was to give at the trial of two senior Home Affairs Ministry officials, who were last week jailed for seven and five years respectively for their role in the scandal.
The scale of the case suggests the trials could drag on well into 2018 and cast a dark shadow over most of Indonesia’s parties in the run up to the 2019 legislative and presidential elections.
“Setya’s story is evidence that our political system has failed to produce political elites,” Tempo magazine said in an editorial. “It is as if political parties do not possess any ideals and values to strive for. Instruments critical for democracy have been hijacked by often amoral individuals.”
Widodo has not had anything to say publicly about the inquiry, but Novanto was pivotal to bringing Golkar into the coalition in the months following the 2014 presidential election when Widodo was struggling to find his feet.
Several senior PDI-P figures are also implicated in the scandal, including Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo. That puts Widodo in an embarrassing position ahead of what are expected to be hotly contested polls.
PDI-P has seen more of its politicians jailed for corruption over the past decade than any other party, while Gerindra – well organized and rhetorically committed in its policy platform to a corruption-free government — lies at the other end of the scale.
By withdrawing Gerindra from the KPK inquiry, Prabowo can now accuse the president of not only failing to support the war on corruption, but condoning efforts to undermine what is Indonesia’s most popular institution.
Polls in recent years have found eight out of 10 Indonesians believe corruption is widespread throughout government, with Parliament consistently named as the least trusted institution.
But the problem inherent in Indonesia’s democratic development has been that voters do not always consider the link between integrity and public service when they go to the polls.
Indeed, not only are they inured to the spectacle of corrupt legislators lining up before the courts, but many constituents tend to see their representatives as cash cows – just as they themselves often perceive the state coffers.
All this tends to explain why the Teflon-coated Novanto has managed to survive so long since the country’s first democratic election in June 1999, when he was one of four parliamentarians to be elected from the then Indonesian territory of East Timor.
Although East Timor separated from Indonesia in a bloody referendum two months later, he and the other MPs stayed on, ostensibly representing the Timorese and Indonesian refugees who chose to move to neighboring West Timor.
Despite a checkered past, Novanto has stormed home by between 47% and 69% of the vote in his safe Sumba electorate in the far-off East Nusa Tenggara island chain, even though he is a native of Bandung, the West Java provincial capital.