Fate of Indonesia's embattled House Speaker Setya Novanto may hinge on two meetings today

A file photo of Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto during a press conference at parliament building in Jakarta.
A file photo of Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto during a press conference at parliament building in Jakarta. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - The embattled Speaker of Indonesia's Parliament, who is being detained for alleged corruption, may have his fate decided in two meetings on Tuesday (Nov 21).

Mr Setya Novanto, also chairman of the country's second largest political party Golkar, was detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission late on Sunday.

The 62-year-old would soon have to undergo questioning over a major scandal involving US$170 million (S$230 million) of stolen state funds.

The Parliament's ethics council is scheduled to meet leaders from 10 political parties  on Tuesday to discuss what to do now that Mr Novanto has been detained and cannot carry out his duties in Parliament. The meeting is due to start at 4pm Jakarta time (5pm Singapore), three hours later than originally planned. 

Golkar's central board leaders were also meeting on Tuesday to discuss who to appoint to temporarily replace Mr Novanto as Parliament Speaker and Golkar's interim chairman.  Golkar has the right to appoint  the Speaker of Parliament for 2014-2019.

Mr Sarifuddin Sudding, deputy chairman of Parliament's ethics council, told Jakarta-based Elshinta radio on Tuesday morning that one way is for Golkar to recall Mr Novanto and appoint an interim House Speaker.

As for the Parliament, its rules state that an MP, or a House Speaker, could be suspended and temporarily replaced if he is indicted. But a suspect is indicted and then becomes a defendant only on the first day of his trial, which in Mr Novanto's case, could be weeks from now.

"We are appealing to fellow MPs to think objectively so we can reach a decision that is in line with the people's aspiration," Mr Sarifuddin said.

He noted growing calls for Mr Novanto to be replaced, adding that the ethics council was seriously considering this and needed support from the House.

The Indonesian Parliament has one House Speaker and four deputy Speakers.

Mr Sarifuddin said the duty of the House Speaker is very significant and the post cannot be left vacant for too long even though the Speaker and deputy Speakers function collectively.

He added that any decision later today should reflect efforts to protect Parliament's standing with the people.

Mr Novanto is widely believed to have played a pivotal role in ensuring President Joko Widodo's proposed reform policies get adequate Parliamentary support. 
Under Mr Novanto's leadership since May 2016, Golkar has given solid support for Mr Joko's administration, using his lobbying skills to communicate with fellow MPs. Prior to Mr Novanto's leadership of Golkar, the government  often faced opposition from Golkar, other parties and even from Mr Joko's own party PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle). 
Political analyst Ali Nurdin of the Mathla'ul Anwar University in West Java said that all corruption suspects, regardless of their support for the government, must face due legal process. 
"It may affect Parliament-government relations, but we believe both institutions will again find a new balance, as in the government finding a new influential partner in Parliament who can lead constructive relations with the government," Mr Ali told The Straits Times.