Political Review : Novanto, the Real Test for Widodo Combating Corruption

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JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – Despite its noble ambitions to achieve developmental goals, Indonesia is currently dealing with a mega-scandal of Electronic ID (E-KTP) corruption, involving the top politician in the country, Setya Novanto, Chairman of the House of Representatives and head of the Golongan Karya political party (Golkar).

Novanto has been detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission for questioning over a major scandal involving US$170 million of stolen state funds, after several attempts to evade court proceedings.

His party, Golkar, is the second-largest party in Parliament, behind Joko Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) – after switching its support to Widodo’s ruling coalition in January of last year, thus significantly shifting the balance of power in Southeast Asia’s largest nation.

Tobias Basuki, from Jakarta’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said it was far from clear whether the Speaker would face trial.

“A lot of people doubted Setya Novanto would be touched. The fact that he has been detained is a good sign of a bigger commitment, especially from the President, (to crack down on graft),” Basuki told TheInsiderStories.

“But it is not at all certain how far this will go, because he could implicate a lot of other politicians from the opposition and ruling parties: this is a real test for Joko Widodo to affirm his position against corruption in the country.”

Novanto has been implicated in a number of corruption cases since 1999 but has never been charged.

In 2015, Novanto was accused of trying to extort $1.8 billion in shares from U.S mining giant Freeport McMoran Inc. in exchange for allowing it to continue operating in West Papua Province and was subsequently forced to resign as Speaker later that year. He retained his position as an MP and was reinstated as Speaker less than a year later.

The e-KTP scandal once again is reiterating Indonesia’s position in fighting against corruption that has been in limbo for nearly a year, and Widodo will soon face a decision as to whether or not to make fighting corruption the center point of his administration, or its downfall, according to Former Chief of Justice at the Constitutional Court Mahfud MD.

“As a citizen, I don’t want a graft-suspect as the Chairman of the House – which is an institution that must be respected,” he said on his Twitter account.

Mahfud warned the legal association that it must carry out self-introspection and start to disbar lawyers who do not understand the law and defend corruption suspects with pride.

Corruption has been identified as one of Indonesia’s greatest weaknesses.

To the surprise of many, Indonesia actually improved in the recently-released Corruption Perception Index, moving up from 107th last year to 90th this year, which the organization credits to improvements in the country’s bureaucracy and public services – initiatives pushed forward by Widodo – but also partly to increasing corruption in other countries.

However, the report notes that Indonesia could take a huge step forward if it more fully empowered its once famous, internationally renowned anti-corruption agency.

The Corruption Eradication Commissions was by no means perfect, and its limited scope – national level cases – meant the vast majority of Indonesia’s corruption, which takes place at regional and local levels, was going un-prosecuted.

Nevertheless, the commissions made numerous enemies, and early this year, the fight reached a boiling point when senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was subject to an acid attack from unknown assailants following morning prayers; to date the perpetrators have not been revealed.

Written by Elisa Valenta, Email: elisa.valenta@theinsiderstories.com