JAKARTA - Indonesia's politics of corruption has always been murky, with untold billions of dollars spirited from state coffers into politicians' personal accounts during strongman Suharto's 32-year tenure. But never before have graft allegations been so politically charged, with mounting opposition complaints that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's anti-corruption drive has disproportionately netted opposition politicians.
The recent arrest and imprisonment of Widjanakaro Puspoyo, chairman of the National Logistic Agency (Bulog), on corruption charges dating back to 2001 and 2003 has set in motion opposition recriminations of a political witch-hunt. Puspoyo is a card-carrying member of the main opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), established by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
The day after Puspoyo was charged, he was replaced in his post by Mustafa Abu Bakar, a former governor of Aceh province and a prominent member of the military-linked Golkar party, which under Suharto ruled the country with an iron fist and is now strongly represented inside Yudhoyono's ruling coalition by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Golkar's chairman. Kalla was reportedly instrumental in Abu Bakar's uncharacteristically speedy appointment.
Growing opposition complaints of discriminatory justice have been aimed at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), a government-sanctioned independent body established in 2003 and headed by former police general Taufiequrachman Ruki. PDI-P secretary general Pramono Anung has come out most forcefully against the anti-corruption body, which he believes is doing the government's bidding in undermining his party's reputation before what are expected to be hotly contested general elections in 2009.
The quasi-independent KPK has wide-ranging powers to name corruption suspects, make arrests, and summon anyone to testify, including political-office holders and high-ranking officials. The investigative body can also request that the president suspend officials to facilitate prosecution and gain access to suspects' bank accounts. It also has the authority to take over cases from both the police and the prosecution service.
KPK deputy chairman Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas has denied any discrimination in the body's workings, saying that the anti-graft body would investigate anyone if it had solid evidence of wrongdoing. One particular bone of contention is an apparent two-tier system of detention for suspects fingered by the KPK and those accused by the Attorney General's Office (AGO).
Suspects tried by the special anti-graft court, created specifically to hear cases handed up by the KPK, are frequently detained while on trial. Cases brought by state prosecutors through the AGO, in contrast, allow suspects to go free until proved guilty. The PDI-P claims that by detaining politicians while they still stand trial, the KPK has abused its authority and is unfairly eroding the party's credibility with voters. They point in particular to the case of Suwarna Abdul Fatah, a PDI-P politician and the governor of East Kalimantan.
In January, Fatah and a clutch of senior Forestry Ministry officials were detained by the KPK on charges of corruption and abuse of power for allegedly illegally granting PT Surya Dumai a land-concession permit to clear more than a million hectares of state land for an oil-palm project. The company logged some 700,000 cubic meters of forest land, causing the state losses of up to Rp386 billion (US$42 million). Yudhoyono personally suspended Fatah while he was under investigation. Last week the anti-corruption court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.
The opposition claims that his treatment represents a double standard. They note by comparison that Golkar politician Ali Mazi was recently indicted by the AGO over a land-permit scam involving the former Hilton Hotel but has not been detained upon receiving the charges. Similarly, they note, the South Jakarta District Court released Golkar politician Nurdin Halid, who was charged with misappropriating funds at Bulog, while his case was pending.
Meanwhile, Rokhmin Dahuri, a former maritime and fisheries minister under Megawati, is in detention at police headquarters in Jakarta after being interrogated by the KPK over the alleged collection of Rp15 billion ($1.6 million) as levies for his personal use from the ministry's regional offices.
Dahuri is the third senior Megawati minister and PDI-P member to face a KPK-led graft probe. Said Agil Al Munawar, religious affairs minister from 1999 to 2004, was sentenced to five years in prison in February 2006 for embezzling money earmarked for the annual hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, resulting in alleged losses of Rp709 billion ($80 million) to the state.
Outside the courtroom, Munawar said his jail sentence was politically motivated and aimed at winning Yudhoyono's government praise for its war on corruption at the opposition's expense. State prosecutors had asked for a 20-year jail sentence, and an appeals court has since added two more years. Munawar says he plans to file a new appeal to the Supreme Court.
Another senior PDI-P executive, Theo Toemion, former chief of the Investment Coordinating Agency (BPKM), was sentenced to six years last August on charges of defrauding the state. This month the Supreme Court turned down his request for an appeal hearing.
The lengthening list of high-profile arrests and trials of senior PDI-P members on graft charges is unprecedented in Indonesia's history. And because Indonesia habitually comes near the top of international corruption rankings for Asia, the KPK's work is winning praise in certain international quarters.
Yet the opposition complaints also come amid the first signs that voter support could be shifting toward the PDI-P. One of the regular polls conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) released on Tuesday showed that Yudhoyono's popularity has dropped to 49%, representing his lowest rating during his two and a half years in office. An LSI survey held two weeks ago showed that 22.6% of the respondents would vote for PDI-P, 16.5% for the Golkar Party and 16.3% for the Yudhoyono's Democrat Party.
The KPK was established while Megawati was still president, though her administration was slow to support the new body. And it's possible that there is a degree of institutional resentment at play.
In March 2004, only weeks after the KPK started its work, Ruki made an urgent appeal for financial assistance from foreign donors because of the lack of funding it received from the government. The Ministry of Justice had then proposed a meager budget of Rp12 billion per year for the KPK, but according to Ruki, that budget had not been allocated, and its top executives had for months gone unpaid.
"We are digging into our own pockets to hire secretaries, drivers and security guards," Ruki was quoted as saying. The KPK's pool of resources at the time consisted of a handful of volunteers assisted by nine police officers, six prosecutors, 15 administrative staff from the State Secretariat and two from the Justice Ministry - all of whom were on temporary loan from the government.
By 2005, the year after Yudhoyono notched an electoral victory over Megawati's PDI-P, Australia, the US and the Asian Development Bank were all contributing funds to keep the KPK afloat. With that assistance, the KPK had hired 180 new employees, including 56 full-time investigators. Last year, Germany pledged 2 million euros (more than $2.6 million) in bilateral aid for a three-year project to support the commission's work. The KPK currently has about 500 staff, and foreign donors finance about 10% of its total budget.
KPK's supporters contend that the body is acting with an even hand, pressing charges across party lines. They point to this month's arrest of Syaukani, the regent of Kutai Kertanegara in East Kalimantan province and also the local Golkar party chairman, who stands accused of three different graft cases totaling about Rp40.75 billion ($4.52 million).
Still, the KPK was widely criticized last year for not prosecuting Justice and Human Rights Minister Awaluddin, a known close friend of Jusuf Kalla. National Election Commission (KPU) member Daan Dimara was jailed for four years over irregularities in the procurement of ballot seals that caused the state to lose Rp3.4 billion. His defense had accused Awaluddin of perjury in his testimony during the trial.
This month, a 50-member legislative commission formally recommended that the KPK take over various unresolved corruption cases from the police and the AGO. Among others were stalled investigations into irregularities related to Bank Indonesia's liquidity support funds, graft allegations at big state-owned companies, including national energy and gas giant Pertamina and national airline Garuda Indonesia, as well as corruption cases involving business people and former mining and forestry officials.
PDI-P legislator Trimedya Panjaitan, who heads the House Commission III on Justice, told the Kompas daily newspaper that there is a systematic government effort under way to snare former PDI-P ministers and that corruption busting has become badly politicized.
Should the KPK take over the various unresolved cases, partisan power politics are likely to intensify in the coming months. And judging by the haste with which Bulog's Puspoyo was taken on, there could be several more PDI-P victims to come.Bill Guerin, a Jakarta correspondent for Asia Times Online since 2000, has been in Indonesia for more than 20 years, mostly in journalism and editorial positions. He specializes in Indonesian political, business and economic analysis, and hosts a weekly television political talk show, Face to Face, broadcast on two Indonesia-based satellite channels. He can be reached at