Indonesia's President expected to drop Budi Gunawan as police chief pick: Palace sources

Indonesia's President is expected to drop Budi Gunawan as his choice for national police chief after the police general was named a corruption suspect. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indonesia's President is expected to drop Budi Gunawan as his choice for national police chief after the police general was named a corruption suspect. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia’s president is soon expected to drop his choice for national police chief who is under investigation for corruption, two palace officials said, in the biggest political test for the new leader since taking office in October.

President Joko Widodo’s decision to nominate Budi Gunawan, under investigation by the anti-graft agency, was met with public outrage and has threatened the President’s popularity.

Two palace sources, who were present at private meetings where Widodo announced he would drop Gunawan as his nominee, told Reuters the president was considering other candidates for police chief.

“Budi Gunawan will not be police chief, the president has already decided,” said one senior palace official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto told reporters on Thursday the President could make an announcement on his police chief pick this week.

Mr Joko's nomination of Gunawan was widely seen as a political manoeuvre to appease the chief of his backing party, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, to whom Gunawan is close. The move once again raised concerns that the President, a newcomer on the national stage, remained indebted to powerful vested interests.

Analysts say dropping Gunawan would help dispel that image and restore some of Mr Joko’s popularity.

“What this shows is that Jokowi is the result of demand-driven movement for change rather than put in place by certain people,” said Jakarta-based political analyst Paul Rowland, using the President’s nickname.

“People are willing to call him out on things they don’t agree with and ultimately he needs that backing to go ahead with reforms.”

One official with Mr Joko’s backing party PDI-P said the decision to drop Gunawan would be a “bump in the road” for his relationship with political patron Megawati.

“Thanks to Jokowi, Ms Megawati now has a party in power after years in opposition but they still don’t control the majority in Parliament, so they can’t go about imposing their will on everyone,” said the party insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Megawati and Jokowi need each other, she understands that,” the party official added.