Indonesia has entered a highly volatile political period, beginning with regional elections this year through to national legislative and presidential elections in 2019.
As more than 150 million Indonesians prepared to go to the polls to elect new governors, district heads and mayors on June 27, voters were confronted by that classic thorn in the side of anti-graft crusaders — money politics.
The guardians of society — religious leaders and anti-corruption bodies among others — have often encouraged people to be smart and denounce crooked politicians who offer shortcut deals that endanger democracy.
A few months ago, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission shocked the nation with an announcement that 18 governors and 75 mayors and district chiefs were under investigation for alleged corruption and bribery.
Some were arrested, while probes into others are ongoing.
Governor Zumi Zola of Jambi and Gatot Pujo Nugroho of North Sumatra were detained for alleged bribery related to provincial budgets.
Meanwhile, Nyono Suharli Wihandoko, regent of Jombang, Abubakar, head of West Bandung, and Marianus Sae head of East Nusa Tenggara’s Ngada district and governor candidate were also arrested for bribery in exchange for thee awarding of local projects.
Indonesia Corruption Watch recorded more than 200 cases between 2010-2017 in which regional leaders were suspected of various forms of graft ranging from bribery and budget manipulation, and corruption related to the procurement of goods and services.
This shows that local politicians are highly vulnerable to corruption and it is highly likely some of those those elected in this year’s local election — 17 governors, 39 mayors and 115 district heads — will not go untainted during their terms.
High cost of politics
Observers say officials mainly become involved in corruption to cover campaign costs, since most political parties do not provide them with funds for this purpose.
One cannot deny that in order to be a candidate, a person must spend a huge amount of money. In many cases, prospective candidates have to make secret deals with business people in order to get funding for campaigns. As payback for their victory, they will grant them projects, regardless of the rules and regulations.
Just a week ago, during the launch of a crowd-funding program for Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party chairman and presidential candidate, Prabowo Subiyanto, he admitted that the high-cost of campaigning often meant public officials are held hostage by investors who support them.
As a result, more and more are involved in corruption.
The Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), says expensive mahar, or “dowry” payments for candidacy, campaign funds, political consultation fees, and vote buying are the main drivers of such high political costs.
It’s no secret that at each election, there is talk of candidates giving out money or gifts to win votes. Some cases even occur early on Election Day which are known as ‘attacks at dawn” on unprotected polling stations.
Decentralization of corruption
Three years after Suharto’s regime ended in 1998, an ambitious regional autonomy plan was rolled out to transfer administrative powers from Jakarta to provinces and districts.
However, over time, it has been abused and has become a means to decentralize corruption.
Since regional elections were introduced in 2005, corruption among local leaders has proliferated, unlike in previous years when corruption was associated with central government.
The highest number of cases was probably in 2013, according to Indonesian Corruption Watch, when more than 1,270 local leaders fell under suspicion.
Apart from regional leaders, since direct local elections were implemented more than 3,000 provincial and district legislators have been embroiled in corruption.
President Joko Widodo has tried to prevent corruption in local politics, such as trying to reduce costs incurred during local election campaigns via various means that include cracking down on unnecessary campaign rallies.
He has also stressed raising awareness among the public by highlighting the pitfalls of selling their vote.
There has been a suggestion from politicians and legislators that the state fund all party election activities, however, this has yet to be discussed in detail.
Not all corruption, though, is driven by politics. Many cases involve the personal greed of government officials or legislators.
One recent high profile case involved former House of Representatives speaker, Setya Novanto, who was jailed for 15 years in April for his role in one of the country’s biggest ever graft scandals. He was convicted for skimming off $7.3 million from a biometric identity card project.
Corruption eradication however, should start with law enforcement. Unfortunately, Indonesia suffers from the weak application of its laws. In many cases, punishments are minimum, and many corrupt officials are still allowed to run in elections.
The Corruption Eradication Commission was established in 2003, just as regional autonomy started to kick in.
Since its foundation the commission has brought thousands of people — government officials, legislators, business people — to justice, including former minister of youth and sports, Andi Mallarangeng and religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali who is still in jail for the misappropriation of a hajj pilgrimage fund.
However, as the commission grows stronger and narrows the space for corruption, pressure against it is inevitably growing stronger too.
Former KPK chairman Abraham Samad (2011-2015) was forced to quit, soon after the agency announced a corruption case involving Police Commissioner General Budi Gunawan.
In April last year, KPK investigator, Novel Baswedan lost an eye after an acid attack, allegedly instigated by corrupt officials unhappy with the commission’s all-out war against people like them.
Indonesia’s parliament is also in the process of revising the criminal code, which if approved, will hamper the anti-corruption fight.
However, despite the threats, attacks and plotting by politicians, the anti-graft agency stands fast and has the support of the vast majority of people who have seen how corruption has impoverished many.
Published in La Croix International, June 26 2018: Corruption and the high cost politics in Indonesia