Indonesian Speaker Setya Novanto relieved of duties as Golkar chairman

Indonesia's Speaker of the House Setya Novanto, identified as a suspect in a corruption case, arrives at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) building in Jakarta on Nov 19, 2017.
Indonesia's Speaker of the House Setya Novanto, identified as a suspect in a corruption case, arrives at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) building in Jakarta on Nov 19, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia's Speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto was on Tuesday (Nov 21) relieved of his duties as chairman of the Golkar party, after he was detained for alleged corruption on Sunday.

The central board leaders of Golkar, the country's second largest party, agreed on Tuesday night to appoint secretary general Idrus Marham as interim chairman pending a court decision on Mr Novanto's status as a suspect in a graft case. In the event Mr Novanto continues to be classified as a suspect, the board said, Mr Idrus will begin the process to elect a new party chairman.

The 62-year-old was detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) as a suspect in a major scandal involving dozens of politicians and US$170 million (S$230 million) of stolen state funds.

The Parliament's ethics council, which was scheduled to meet leaders from 10 political parties earlier on Tuesday to discuss Mr Novanto's fate as Speaker, postponed the meeting to an unspecified date after some faction leaders could not attend.

Mr Sarifuddin Sudding, deputy chairman of Parliament's ethics council, speaking to Jakarta-based Elshinta radio on Tuesday morning, had suggested Golkar could recall Mr Novanto and appoint an interim House Speaker.

As for 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 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.

Mr Novanto is widely believed to have played a pivotal role in ensuring President Joko Widodo's proposed reform policies receive adequate Parliamentary support.

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.