Indonesia's President Jokowi drops Budi Gunawan as police chief nominee

Supporters of Indonesian police chief nominee Budi Gunawan holding a banner with his picture outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on Feb 16, 2015, shortly after an Indonesian court cleared the three star general of being a graft
Supporters of Indonesian police chief nominee Budi Gunawan holding a banner with his picture outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on Feb 16, 2015, shortly after an Indonesian court cleared the three star general of being a graft suspect. -- PHOTO: EPA

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has dropped an unpopular general for the post of police chief and suspended two leaders in the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in a highly anticipated move that many hope will ease a bitter stand-off between the country’s main law enforcement agencies - the police and the KPK. 

The decision to replace General Budi Gunawan as his nominee for police chief was to preserve peace as the controversy surrounding his candidacy has split the public, said Mr Joko in a short statement on Wednesday.

Mr Joko has put forward deputy police chief Badrodin Haiti as his new nominee for the post, who will have to be approved by Parliament.

He also ordered the suspension of KPK chief Abraham Samad and his deputy Bambang Widjojanto, who were named suspects in separate police cases, and appointed three KPK interim leaders.

“I instructed the National Police and KPK to comply with the guidelines, the rule of law, and a code of conduct to maintain the harmony of the state law enforcement agencies,” said the President.

The month-long tense standoff between the two law-enforcement agencies began after KPK named the sole nominee for police chief, Gen Budi, a suspect in a corruption case last month.

Soon after, the police went after the four top KPK officials, charging them with violations in several cases, some stretching as far back as eight years ago, sparking accusations of an orchestrated attack by the police.

A smear campaign against KPK chief Abraham also circulated online, and he has been summoned for questioning in his Makassar hometown for document forgery. He has also been accused of an ethics violation by secretly approaching politicians last year to pitch himself as vice-president.

His deputy Bambang has been named as suspect in a 2010 perjury case over elections results.

While a court verdict on Monday overturned Gen Budi’s “suspect” status, the politics of the police appointment is being seen as a measure of President Joko’s political will in fighting graft and of his independence from vested interests in making his decisions.

Other than lingering graft allegations, Gen Budi is unpopular because of his links to Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri, who heads Mr Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P). Gen Budi served as her adjutant when she was Indonesia’s president from 2001 to 2004 and his nomination for the top cop job was seen as Mrs Megawati’s meddling in the presidency as he was her pick, according to sources.

The ongoing standoff also surfaced divisions within the PDI-P, with Mr Joko’s own party cadres criticising him for the delay in appointing the three-star general amid the controversy over his nomination.

On the other hand, immediately after the court cleared Gen Budi’s “suspect” status on Monday, the Jakarta Composite Index dropped 0.28 per cent to 5.358,89 points, an indication of investors’ concerns over the ability of Mr Joko to control the government.

Amid mounting pressure to intervene, the President had said he preferred to wait for all legal and constitutional processes to be completed before he makes a decision.

Finally, on Wednesday, he made decided to drop Gen Budi.

News of the decision was met with relief by those who were against Gen Budi’s nomination and its political implications. Former health minister Fahmi Idris, who was among those gathered at the KPK building on Wednesday to show their support for the agency, was quoted saying on MetroTv: “For the President to drop Budi Gunawan is something, it shows he is listening, but we have to assess how this new candidate is.”

The new nominee for police chief, Gen Badrodin, has risen through the ranks and has held the post as chief of police at the district and provincial level, but has also been suspected of irregular transactions, as noted in a Tempo magazine report on June 28, 2010.

He has to undergo a vetting process by Parliament before he is appointed as the new police chief.

In the meantime, Gen Badrodin has pledged to work together with the KPK and ease the tensions. “We will make an effort to resolve all issues related to what’s going on now, and I will cooperate with the KPK,” he told reporters.

zubaidah@sph.com.sg