Stand with the People, Jokowi

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  • President Joko Widodo delivers a press statement in the yard of the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Friday, September 27, 2019. TEMPO/Subekti

    President Joko Widodo delivers a press statement in the yard of the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Friday, September 27, 2019. TEMPO/Subekti

    TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe student demonstrations over the last two weeks may well have died down, but President Joko Widodo should not use this to claim that ‘the situation has returned to normal’

    Remember that apart from sporadic dialogues, he has done nothing at all in response to the most important public protests over the revisions to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) law.

    What is apparent is that Jokowi seems to have agreed with – and even become a part of – the group desiring to weaken the anti-corruption commission. In a public statement he made after meeting with 41 activists in favor of strengthening the KPK, he said he would do the (political) calculations before issuing a government regulation in lieu of law (perpu) – a legal product that could save the KPK. However, his choice is already very clear: he can choose to stand with the people or with the political parties. Jokowi does not have much time to decide because the stakes are very high: the future of the Corruption Eradication Commission is in jeopardy.

    The KPK is now hanging in the balance. The machinations in the final days of the 2014-2019 House of Representatives (DPR) left the Commission no longer having extensive powers to deal with corruption. It is regrettable that Jokowi agreed with the DPR’s move by sending a representative to attend the session deliberating the revised law.

    In its deliberations, the DPR and the government gave legal backing to their interfering in the pro-judicial process through an oversight body. They also changed the status of investigators into civil servants, a position that means they will no longer be independent.

    As a result, after the revisions are passed into law, the KPK will simply become just like other institution that has lost its fangs. The international community, especially those who signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption, have also drawn attention to this weakening of the KPK.

    Protests about the collusion between the DPR and the government to weaken the KPK triggered large demonstrations in several cities. After all, the Palace and Senayan had previously ignored public objections to the selection of the KPK leadership. Inspector Gen. Firli Bahuri, a senior police officer who according to a number of anti-corruption agencies has a poor track record, was chosen as chairman. Now coming for the first time since it was established in 2003, the KPK is led by an active police general.

    Other revised laws that also have controversial articles, including the Criminal Code law, triggered student protests. The president has delayed the passing into law of this bill, but at the same time, the government used various methods to weaken the largest student movement since 1998. And extra repressive measures were also taken by the police to muzzle the demonstrators, whose rights are guaranteed under the Constitution. As a result: two students from Haluoleo University, Kendari, died.

    President Jokowi should turn this tragedy into an emergency justifying the immediate issuance of a KPK perpu. He needs to restore the provisions of the old law. Changes to ‘bring it into line with recent developments’ – as has been claimed by the DPR and the government – cannot be carried out on the quiet. Deliberations of the revisions must be carried out in line with the rules for drawing up laws: through academic studies and involving many people, including the public.

    Jokowi also needs to be reminded that the provisions included in the revised law do not reflect the desire to battle corruption. The plundering of state funds did not stop even when the old stronger law was still in force. Some of those guilty of corruption are members of the DPR, active police generals, senior government officials and the people at the top of state-owned enterprises.

    There is no need for Jokowi to worry about threats from the political elites supporting him. The possibility of him being overthrown if he issues a perpu, as mentioned by NasDem party chairman Surya Paloh, are simply an empty threat. The Constitution gives the president a strong mandate to take measures, including saving the nation from the danger of corruption. Jokowi also has considerable authority after being reelected with 55.45 percent of the vote in last April’s presidential election.

    Indonesia needs a statesman: a leader who will stand up against corruptors. Not a politician who is busy calculating the political consequences – while crooks use different ways to continue to steal the nation’s wealth.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine