Indonesia’s corruption watchdog enters the political fray

by Christopher Leahy, ACGA

20 March 2023

As Indonesia counts down to its next Presidential election in February 2024, signs are emerging of politicization within the country’s anti-graft agency, writes Chris Leahy, ACGA Specialist Advisor for Southeast Asia.

The once-famed independence of Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, known by its local acronym, the KPK (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or the Corruption Eradication Commission) was systematically circumscribed by President Joko Widodo’s second-term administration which began in June 2021. Concerns raised in September 2021 during ACGA member briefings played out to form, and by January 2022 political interference in the KPK’s operations was palpable (see our blog at the time).

It now appears to be the turn of the KPK to enter the political fray, with local press and market analysts finding much to write about as internal struggles involving key players at the KPK cross political lines.

One such example involves KPK Chair and former Police General, Firli Bahuri, and other KPK commissioners and senior officers. According to local sources, KPK commissioner Nawawi Pomolango, a former judge, openly criticized Bahuri after the latter made an unscheduled and unannounced visit alone to a suspect under investigation by the KPK—former Papua Governor Lukas Enembe. After the secret visit became public, Pomolango told local reporters, “Only Pak Firli knows what promises were whispered to the suspect.”

In a separate case, Bahuri is believed to be targeting former Jakarta Governor, Anies Baswedan for corruption. According to sources within the KPK, Bahuri is pushing the case against Baswedan and seeking to have Baswedan formally named a suspect in alleged corruption concerning high commitment fees charged to Jakarta to hold the 2022 Jakarta Formula E race. This is despite claims from existing and former KPK investigators that no evidence of corruption was found in the preliminary investigation of the event.

KPK Director for Prosecutions, Fitroh Rohcahyanto resigned in February 2023 mid-way through his five-year term. Former KPK Deputy Chair, Bambang Widjojanto claimed in local press that Rohcahyanto resigned to maintain his personal integrity, a claim the KPK denied.

Analysts claim that Bahuri is determined to embroil Baswedan in a corruption investigation to discredit his likely run for President in the next general election. Baswedan is regarded as a popular and formidable opponent to Widodo and his political allies, notably Widodo’s likely anointed successor, Central Java Governor, Ganjar Pranowo.

The running feuds within the KPK suggest that its independence has eroded considerably further since Widodo’s intervention began in 2019. Whether Bahuri succeeds or fails in his campaign to discredit a future Presidential candidate of his own political patron will reveal much about the ability of the KPK to continue to function as a credible deterrent to Indonesia’s endemic corruption. In the latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published in January, Indonesia’s score dropped to 34 in 2022 from 38 in 2021, placing it in 110th place out of 180 countries surveyed. When Widodo became President in 2014, Indonesia’s score was 34, 107th out of 175 countries then surveyed.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Leahy
ACGA Specialist Advisor, Southeast Asia, ACGA

Christopher Leahy
 is a founder of Blackpeak, a leading investigative research and advisory firm founded in Asia. Prior to working in the investigative field, he was a journalist, holding positions as Asian Editor for Euromoney and a contributing editor for AsiamoneyChris began writing for ACGA in 2003, specialising on Southeast Asia. He has written the Indonesia and Philippines chapters in ACGA’s CG Watch report since 2007 and has contributed to other markets as well, including Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

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