Jokowi Juggles Political Parties, Anti-Graft & Campaign Promises

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Juggling multiple interests looks much like a zero-sum game for President Widodo. The president is considering issuing a regulation in lieu of the law (Perpu) in response to recent protests against the controversial KPK Law, which weakened the all-important anti-graft institution.

Perpu is a regulation issued by the president without deliberation with the parliament, usually in times where there is a reasonable necessity. In this case, the Perpu would likely suspend the implementation of the new KPK Law for one year, allowing for potential changes to be made by parliament. This option easily triumphs over other potential challenges to a law such as appeals for a judicial review by the Constitutional Court or a legislative review by the parliament.

On one hand, the KPK Law is supported overwhelmingly by the Widodo government and all political parties in the government coalition, including PDIP and its chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri. Behind closed doors, the government has deemed the KPK too aggressive in its anti-corruption efforts, giving a bad rap for the country in the eyes of investors. On the other hand, the KPK is one of the most trusted and highest-performing institutions in Indonesia. It has a near 100% conviction rate with defendants serving time in prison and has gone after powerful officials such as the speaker of parliament, lawmakers, ministers, senior party members, judges and even a chair of the Constitutional Court who received a life sentence after being found guilty of accepting bribes and other corrupt activities. The political parties that supported Widodo for a second term have warned Widodo not to issue a Perpu.

This comes at a crucial time. University student organizations have threatened to carry out nationwide demonstrations if a Perpu is not issued by 14 October. Widodo’s inauguration will be on 20 October and led by the speaker of the Upper House in the parliament building, the same group that strongly supported the law. Issuing a Perpu before the inauguration is politically risky as he would likely face a backlash.

The president will choose his new cabinet shortly after his inauguration and will be splitting these seats between technocrats and political appointees from his coalition. He could instead attempt to use the Perpu as leverage when deciding his new cabinet and push his coalition parties to agree to the Perpu in return for cabinet positions.

During both his 2014 and 2019 presidential campaigns, Widodo pledged to strengthen anti-corruption efforts. Time will tell if he will fulfil that pledge or decide to keep juggling other interests. 

Shawn Corrigan