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Positive Signs in Indonesia’s Fight Against Graft

by Joshua Kurlantzick
August 22, 2012

Indonesian President Yudhoyono accompanied by first lady Yudhoyono wave their hands at the end of a ceremony marking Indonesia's 67th Independence Day in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2012. Indonesian President Yudhoyono accompanied by first lady Yudhoyono wave their hands at the end of a ceremony marking Indonesia's 67th Independence Day in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2012 (Enny Nuraheni/Courtesy Reuters).

Over at Asia Sentinel, a report analyzes how Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission appears to be going after high-ranking Democratic Party official and allies suspected of bribery, including several very close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Commission, known as the KPK in Indonesia, has also taken on the National Police, which is often considered by many Indonesians as now more corrupt than the army. The police have been empowered over the past decade by successive governments as the army has had its powers (rightly) curtailed. The devolution of powers to provincial and subprovincial areas also has reduced the power of the army, except in areas where there is still serious conflict, like in Papua. As Asia Sentinel notes, the KPK is using the power of public revulsion of corruption to bolster its mandate, something that anti-corruption fighters in other developing countries have tried, yet often wound up finding that the popular mandate was not enough in the face of weak institutional support and entrenched political and business interests (See: South Africa, Thailand, and many others).

When he first came into office, Yudhoyono rhetorically empowered the KPK, but now it is getting extremely close to him and other senior people in his party. He is known to want to leave a legacy of a party that lasts in a political system that will eventually consolidate around only a few parties —the Democratic Party was previously mostly just a vehicle for him. His second term has been a serious letdown, by the standards established in the first, standards that were perhaps too high given his cautious style and links to the past. Still, by not interfering in this investigation, Yudhoyono could reclaim some of those reformist credentials.

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