Indonesia parliament approves new police chief after graft scandal

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's parliament on Thursday approved President Joko Widodo's new candidate for national police chief, after the leader was forced to withdraw his previous nominee due to his tainted record.

Widodo's anti-graft credentials have come under fire after his initial police chief nominee, Budi Gunawan, was implicated in a bribery scandal earlier this year.

The president waited for weeks before finally buckling to public pressure and cancelling Gunawan's nomination, which many attributed to his reluctance to cross his backing party and its chief Megawati Sukarnoputri, to whom Gunawan is close.

Members of parliament unanimously endorsed three-star police general Badrodin Haiti as police chief after a so-called"fit-and-proper" test where they grilled the candidate on a range of topics including tackling corruption, radicalism and crime.

"We think (Haiti) is capable of taking the police force in a better direction," MP Bambang Soesatyo told reporters after the vote.

Widodo narrowly won last year's election with a promise to bring clean, effective government.

But the controversy surrounding the police chief has hit the president's popularity as questions are raised about his ability to take on powerful vested interests in a graft-ridden country.

Members of parliament have called for Gunawan to be appointed deputy chief of police after the case against him was dropped by the anti-graft agency.

But anti-corruption activists say the move would jeopardise reform in the police force, which is widely seen as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country, according to Transparency International.

"Badrodin Haiti is a compromise put forward by the president after Budi Gunawan had to be cancelled," said Emerson Yuntho of Indonesia Corruption Watch, a local NGO.

"If Gunawan becomes deputy, that's like having two leaders ... and that would be a challenge when it comes to implementing reforms." Haiti declined to elaborate on when the president would officially inaugurate him as police chief.