Widodo Picks New Police Chief Candidate Amid Graft Criticism

Indonesian President Joko Widodo named a new nominee to be the national police chief, dropping his earlier choice after a public outcry over corruption allegations against the officer by the anti-graft agency.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, will propose Badrodin Haiti, the acting police chief, as his pick for the job, he told reporters in Jakarta on Wednesday. He also will temporarily dismiss two leaders of the anti-corruption agency due to legal challenges, including chairman Abraham Samad, and appoint three new ones.

The decisions, announced together, are aimed at restoring Jokowi’s image as a reformer and ending weeks of tensions between the police and the anti-corruption commission. If he had pushed ahead with his previous choice Budi Gunawan -- who was endorsed for the role by both parliament and Jokowi’s political party -- he would have risked a public backlash.

“I’m not sure if this solution permanently ends this saga,” Euben Paracuelles, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore, said by e-mail. “The risk is Jokowi’s approval ratings continue to slide and his anti-corruption credentials consequently doubted.”

The new nominee Haiti will have to be endorsed by parliament, which is dominated by parties opposed to Jokowi. It had already approved Gunawan and has been calling on Jokowi to inaugurate him.

New Commissioners

The KPK is vital to Indonesia’s efforts to reduce pervasive corruption. Since its formation in 2003, it has prosecuted 72 lawmakers, six central bankers and dozens of CEOs.

The KPK named Gunawan a suspect shortly after Jokowi picked him to head the police in mid-January. Police then began investigating KPK chief Samad for alleged document forgery and another KPK leader, Bambang Widjojanto, for alleged perjury.

The three new commissioners are Johan Budi, a former journalist and senior KPK official, law professor Indriyanto Seno Adji, and Taufiequrrahman Ruki, who headed the KPK between 2004 and 2007.

“I have instructed the national police and the KPK to obey the law and ethics code and to maintain a harmonious relationship,” said Jokowi.

The police and the KPK have long had uneasy ties.

Dozens of officers once barged into the KPK to try and arrest an agent investigating the chief traffic cop. Transparency International has described the police as the nation’s most corrupt institution.

‘Backstage Deal’?

Gunawan’s appointment was seen by many Jokowi supporters as a breach of his campaign promises to tackle graft and govern free of political party interests.

Gunawan was a personal adjutant of Megawati Soekarnoputri, who was president from 2001 to 2004 and heads the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, the party that backed Jokowi’s bid for presidency. Jokowi appointed Megawati’s daughter to a post in the Cabinet.

A court on Feb. 16 cleared Gunawan from being a suspect in the KPK investigation.

It remains to be seen whether the PDI-P, and the rest of the parliament, agree with Jokowi’s new nominee, said Emrus Sihombing, political communications professor at Universitas Pelita Harapan near Jakarta.

“Maybe there has been a backstage political agreement and things will be smooth,” he said. “But if this was Jokowi’s own decision and lawmakers weren’t involved, it could be difficult.”

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