Indonesia to swear in new Parliament Speaker after huge graft case

Mr Bambang Soesatyo (centre, seated, in suit) will be sworn in as Indonesia's new Speaker of Parliament, on Monday (Jan 15).
Mr Bambang Soesatyo (centre, seated, in suit) will be sworn in as Indonesia's new Speaker of Parliament, on Monday (Jan 15).PHOTO: TWITTER/@AIRLANGGA_HRT

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's Parliament will swear in Mr Bambang Soesatyo as its new Speaker on Monday (Jan 15), his party said, a critic of President Joko Widodo's government who was appointed after the previous Speaker was indicted in a US$170 million (S$225 million) graft scandal.

Mr Bambang is a long-time member of Golkar, the second-largest party in Mr Joko's coalition and which controls leadership of the house. Golkar appointed Mr Bambang to replace Setya Novanto, who was forced to resign late last year.

Analysts say Mr Bambang's appointment could mean tougher negotiations in Parliament for Mr Joko's government as it tries to push through reforms in the last year of his term before legislative and presidential elections in 2019.

"Jokowi may not have full control over the house like he did with the previous speaker," said Mr Endy Bayuni, senior editor at The Jakarta Post newspaper. Jokowi is the President's widely-used nickname.

"Politicians switch loyalty depending on where the wind blows, but Soesatyo's support is not automatic. Jokowi has to ensure that Golkar remains loyal to him," he said.

Despite Golkar being part of the ruling coalition, Mr Bambang has previously criticised the President's handling of the economy, highlighting bureaucratic inefficiency and slow budget disbursement.

He also criticised Mr Joko's appointment of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a former World Bank director, saying it showed that Mr Joko's government was vulnerable to foreign influences.

"Soesatyo knows the party's position as a supporter of Jokowi," said Golkar deputy secretary-general Muhamad Sarmuji. "Even though he has been critical, it has only been because of his desire to contribute to the government's success."

Mr Bambang, a former businessman and journalist, would be sworn in during a plenary session later on Monday, Mr Sarmuji said. The new Speaker could not be reached immediately for comment.

Golkar had also come under pressure to elect a Speaker to clean up the party's image and improve the standing of Parliament, long regarded by Indonesians as riddled with entrenched corruption.

Previous Speaker Setya is accused of orchestrating a scheme to plunder US$173 million from a government contract to introduce a national electronic identity card - almost 40 per cent of the project's entire budget.

Setya has denied wrongdoing in a case that has shocked Indonesians who are already used to large corruption scandals.

Some see Mr Bambang's appointment as a missed opportunity for institutional reform. Mr Bambang previously served on the parliamentary commission for legal affairs, where he lobbied for the popular anti-corruption agency's powers to be restricted.

"(The appointment) continues the... strong position of politicians with webs of influence to fill in leadership positions in Parliament," said Mr Tobias Basuki, a Jakarta-based political analyst.