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Graft scandals will affect Indonesian polls

Publication Date : 24-12-2013


Golkar is the latest to be affected by detention of a leader, but don’t write the ‘banyan tree’ party off yet.

Whilst Jakarta’s traffic may crawl along at a snail’s pace, the country’s Anti-Corruption Agency (better known as the KPK) runs as fast as the sprinter, Usain Bolt.

Indeed, whom the KPK hauls in and why has become a key factor in next year’s Parliamentary and Presidential polls. Certainly their determination to get to the bottom of a major scandal surrounding the US$118 million Hambalang sports complex in West Java has torpedoed the fortunes of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrats, with recent polls showing that their electability has plunged from 21% in the 2009 Parliamentary elections to around 7% currently.

With last week’s dramatic detention of Banten’s lady Governor (and Golkar cadre), Ibu Ratu Atut, some observers are beginning to wonder whether the travails of the influential Chasan Sochib clan could derail Golkar in a similar fashion.

Evidently, we’ll soon find out.

As the tudung-wearing Atut, the eldest daughter of the late Chasan Sochib, was escorted away (in her bright orange “suspects” jacket) to spend the night in a cell with 15 other suspects, Indonesians gasped in surprise. Most have viewed the dulcet-toned but imposing lady politician as an “untouchable” – someone beyond the reach of the law.

However, the KPK was implacable calling for her detention because they feared she would destroy evidence and interfere with witnesses. In making their bold decision, the agency disregarded the many hundreds of her angry supporters thronging their premises. These guys are tough.

Needless to say, Atut, who’s been in power since 2007, has built up an impressive political machine, backed all the while by her late father’s loyalists from the martial arts association, Jawara. But her demise became almost inevitable when her brother Tubagus Wawan was caught red-handed in attempting to bribe the Head of the Constitutional Court, Akil Mochtar, at his Jakarta home on Oct 2.

Wawan’s case unravelled very quickly as the extent of his enormous personal wealth became known – underground garages stuffed with luxury sports cars. Given Banten’s relative poverty, Indonesians were immediately intrigued at the extent to which his case was connected to his sister’s political interests.

When it became known that Wawan had been endeavouring to subvert the outcome of a hotly contested election in Lebak (a district in Banten) – it became clear that the siblings were working hand-in-glove. Atut is also a suspect in a corruption case involving RM10mil worth of mark-ups on medical equipment.

Similar allegations have also been made against her sister-in-law (and Wawan’s wife) Airin Rachmi Diany, who is also Mayor of Tangerang Selatan, Jakarta’s equivalent of our Subang Jaya. If proven, more of her family members could end up caught in the KPK’s dragnet.

So, could these corruption scandals undermine the “banyan tree” party’s growing popularity nationwide?

First, Golkar has been enjoying a boost in their ratings, reaching 17% in recent surveys – a level of support that eclipses the Democrats and at times even matches Ibu Megawati’s PDIP.

Second, Golkar has an institutional advantage over the Democrats. Formed during the Suharto era, the party has established deep cultural roots in the community, especially outside Java.

Third – unlike the Democrats – and this is a very important distinction – Golkar has rarely campaigned on a platform of “clean government” – hence they will probably be able to avoid charges of hypocrisy now that the spate of scandals has been exposed in Banten. At the same time, the party has long traded on its ability to bring development and prosperity to the provinces.

Fourth, Golkar isn’t dependant on any one figure. Former leaders such as Jusuf Kalla, Wiranto and Surya Paloh have all left its mainstream without shaking the party’s core viability and popularity. In essence, Golkar leaders will come and go and Atut, arguably, is no exception.

So whilst the setback in Banten could dent the party’s electability in Java, it’s unlikely that this trend would be duplicated beyond Java.

Once again, it’s worth noting the KPK’s extraordinary independence and integrity – something that we in Malaysia would be well advised to learn from.

With 2014 just around the corner, Indonesia-watchers should sit back, relax and enjoy the show: there are going to be a lot more surprises to follow.


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