Category Archives: Op Ed

Op-Ed: Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline

Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline

By Burhanuddin Muhtadi

The world has experienced a democratic decline in recent years. Freedom House (2020) reports^ that 25 out of 41 established democracies have experienced an erosion of democracy over the last 14 years. Experts use a variety of terms to describe this phenomenon. Some use the term democratic regression, some democratic recession, and others democratic deconsolidation.

Irrespective of term used the process refers to the same condition, that is the end of the third wave of world democracy that commenced in 1991 along with the rise in populism and the climate of a lack of freedom that threatens many countries.

Uniquely, the main actors behind the decline of democracy around the world are not traditional non-democratic forces like the military or militia but rather democratic political elites elected through electoral mechanisms, as in the case of Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

These political leaders were elected through electoral mechanisms. However, they have then used their political mandate to degrade democracy through open attacks on oppositions and the mass media, the excessive use of populism, and identity politics.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia has not escaped the phenomenon of a regression in democracy described above. In 2014 Freedom House reported that Indonesia’s democracy index category had dropped from free to partly free. The reasons for this downgrading were the threats to civil liberties posed by the civil society law which imposed limits on community organizations, provided for a multiplicity of surveillance of the activities of community organizations, and imposed the obligation to adopt [the state ideology] Pancasila as their founding principle.

Indonesia’s democracy index score has so far not recovered. In the last Freedom House 2020 report, the bad record of our democracy continues to revolve around freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and worship, and intractable corruption.

Another organization that has a democracy index, The Economist Intelligence Unit#, has also recorded similar findings. Our democracy rating has decreased for three consecutive years. In 2016, Indonesia was still ranked 48 out of 167 countries studied. Our democracy ranking has now slipped to number 64 with a score of only 6.39.

Based on the categorization produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Indonesia occupies the lowest position in the category of flawed democracies. Indonesia’s report card is red due mainly to issues of civil liberties and a political culture that lacks freedom and features intolerance and identity politics.

The latest study conducted by the Indonesian Political Indicator organization confirms the assessment of these democracy index agencies. Based on a sample of 1,200 respondents in September 2020, Indicator’s national survey found that only 17.7% of respondents rated Indonesia as being more democratic. On the other hand, 36% of respondents considered Indonesia now less democratic, and 37% considered the situation unchanged.

In other words, twice as many people think Indonesia is increasingly undemocratic when compared to those who think that Indonesia is now more democratic.

Based on regression analysis, the perception of democracy in Indonesia is significantly influenced by age. The older the respondents the greater the tendency to think that Indonesia is more democratic. Conversely, the younger the respondents the more negative the perceptions. This is because for older voters the reference point for comparison is democracy under the New Order which is naturally still much worse than today. At the same time, young voters compared current democratic conditions with those of the administration before President Jokowi.

Indicator’s national survey also showed increasing threats to civil liberties. Most of the public tend to agree or strongly agree that at present citizens are increasingly afraid to voice their opinions (79.6%), it is increasingly difficult to demonstrate or protest (73.8%), and the authorities are increasingly arbitrary in arresting people with political views that differ from the views of those in power (57.7%).

However, regression analysis indicates one of the factors that significantly explains the civil liberties index is a combination of three items: fear of voicing an opinion, difficulty in protesting, and that the authorities are increasingly arbitrary and influenced by partisan attitudes.

If the respondent voted for Jokowi-Ma’ruf in the 2019 presidential election, he or she is likely to disagree that civil liberties are becoming worse. On the other hand, Prabowo-Sandi voters tend to agree that civil liberties are decreasing.

Even though Indonesia’s democracy index score has declined over time, we are still better off than other Muslim-majority countries. The results of a study by the American Political Science Association in Democracy and Autocracy (Vol 18 (3) December 2020)* provides this comforting news through the analysis of two dimensions: duration and trajectory.

Duration measures a long or short period of time as a democratic Islamic state, while trajectory indicates the extent to which the general tendency of a country is along a democratic path: whether the trend is improving or worsening.

Indonesia and Senegal, as Muslim-majority countries, have been successful both in terms of their long duration of democracy since separating from authoritarianism, and in terms of democratic trends which are relatively better than other Islamic countries.

Turkey, on the other hand, is an example of a democratic country of long-standing, but the trend of democratization is increasingly less so and more worrying. Malaysia, Mali, Albania, and Tunisia are included among the Islamic countries which possess democratic developments that are very good, but this has not yet been proved because their democracies are not long standing.

So, the decline in Indonesia’s democracy index must be read in the context of the recession of democracy occurring at a global level. Never mind we who have only been a democracy since the fall of the New Order in 1998, many old democratic countries have experienced democratic deconsolidation. Placed in comparison, especially when compared to Islamic countries or countries in the Southeast Asian region, democracy in Indonesia is still better.

Polarization

One of the features of democratic regression that has occurred globally is a world that is increasingly polarized, citizens divided according to their respective partisan attitudes. These partisan attitudes ultimately lead every voter to ignore objective truths and to make emotions and personal beliefs more important than data and facts. This is what populist leaders then exploit to implement illiberal agendas because of the partisan attitudes of their supporters, allowing the agenda of the populist figure to go according to plan.

The drop in Indonesia’s democracy rank has also been contributed to by deep polarization, especially since the last two presidential elections. The polarization between Jokowi and Prabowo voters has made every fanatical supporter tolerate a tough approach to his or her political opponent that is contrary to democracy. The phenomenon of reporting each other to the police has also created a climate of fear so that freedom of speech has declined.

Social media is fueling more polarization, which is followed by the echo-chamber phenomenon when netizens are trapped in an echo chamber. They tend to select friends who are from the same side. In the echo space objectivity is buried in the uniformity of thought caused by the homogeneity of friends in the timeline.

Finally, they tend to be selective in receiving information on social media. If the information that enters the timeline comes from outside the political network, it will be rejected, however accurate. But if the incoming information comes from his or her group, the information will be spread even if it is fake.

The polarization that destroys common sense did not end when the Great Indonesia Movement Party joined the government. The division between the camps of Jokowi’s “tadpoles” and Prabowo’s “bats” will not stop, notwithstanding Prabowo and Sandiaga Uno having now become ministers of President Jokowi.

Put simply, the unhealthy political polarization must be halted immediately so we can put the brakes on the democratic deconsolidation that is taking place. Common sense must be restored in democratic life by making objectivity, data, and facts supreme, not emotions and partisan attitudes.

New Year 2021 should be a valuable moment to enable us to reduce polarization as much as possible. This way we can restore reason to discourse in the public arena, so the waters are not muddied any further or the situation made more toxic. It is within just such an atmosphere of healthy public space that we can acknowledge our democracy is right now fogged in. This is the reason we need a common solution to reverse the current democratic decline.


“Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline” (Polarisasi dan Ancaman Resesi Demokrasi) was published in Media Indonesia on 28 Dec 2020. https://mediaindonesia.com/kolom-pakar/372089/polarisasi-dan-ancaman-resesi-demokrasi

Burhanuddin Muhtadi is the Executive Director of Indonesian Political Indicator (indikator.co.id) and Lecturer in the Faculty of Social and Political Science at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta

IG:@burhanuddinmuhtadi

^https://freedomhouse.org/

#https://www.eiu.com/n/

*Democracy and Autocracy Newsletter

For more by Burhanuddin Muhtadi click here.

Op-Ed: Is the Press in Southeast Asia in Danger?

Op-Ed: Is the Press in Southeast Asia in Danger?

By Permata Adinda, from Asumsi.co

Repression is being experienced by journalists from Al Jazeera in Malaysia to Rappler in the Philippines.

Al Jazeera’s office in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, was raided and two computers seized by police (4/8) after the media screened a documentary highlighting the Malaysian authorities’ arrests and inhuman treatment of migrants during the pandemic.

Authorities condemned the film, judging it to be inaccurate, unfair and misleading. Malaysia’s Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Saifuddin Abdullah, said the film did not have a shooting permit which according to Al Jazeera did not require permission because it was included in the category of latest news which was always aired every week.

This documentary entitled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown is part of the 101 East Al Jazeera program. After the film was released, the editorial team members and the subjects interviewed in the film received many death threats, violence, and doxing of their personal data on social media.

One of the informants from Bangladesh, Mohamad Rayhan Kabir, was arrested on 24 July. Authorities said he would be deported and barred from entering Malaysia forever.

Responding to the repressive attitude of the government, Al Jazeera condemned the action, viewing it as an attack on press freedom. These raids are seen as a “disturbing escalation” of violent behavior by the authorities against the media, demonstrating the extent to which they can intimidate journalists.

“Al Jazeera sided with journalists and our coverage. Our staff did their job and they did nothing wrong to make them need to apologize or clarify. Journalism is not a crime,” said Al Jazeera managing editor Giles Trendle.

There has also been criticism from Amnesty International Malaysia which is urging Malaysian authorities to stop harassing Al Jazeera and to halt investigations against staff and media reporters. “Violence by the government against migrants, refugees and anyone who defends them is clearly an attempt at silencing and intimidation that must be condemned. Protect migrants. Protect freedom of expression.”

Press freedom in Southeast Asia has indeed been worrying in recent years. Reporters Without Borders reports in 2020 showed media freedom scores in all Southeast Asian countries had decreased compared to the previous year, with an average ranking of 138 out of 180 countries. Another report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Southeast Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) found that 61% of press workers in the region felt their jobs were unsafe, a figure that has increased by 11% from the previous year.

Prior to this journalist Tashny Sukumaran from the South China Morning Post in Malaysia also experienced criminalization and repressive behavior. Having also reported on the detention of refugees and illegal migrants in the red zone of COVID-19 in Malaysia, he was arrested on charges of “committing insults with the intention of provoking and destroying the peace” and was sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison.

Apart from Malaysia, journalist and CEO of Rappler Maria Ressa in the Philippines was also found guilty of “cyber slander” for her articles on drug and human trafficking cases involving the chairman of the Supreme Court and a number of businesspeople. Ressa was also ordered to pay a fine of P400,000, or equivalent to Rp. 119 million. There have also been the detention of Reuters journalists in Myanmar, the closure of several media companies in Malaysia and Cambodia, and the increasing censorship of news in Thailand.

This repressive behavior towards journalists also often acts on the pretext of “the need to fight misinformation”, and the COVID-19 pandemic has become an arena to strengthen the power of authority over the press. The Thai Prime Minister threatened to suspend or edit news deemed “untrue”. These governments also have the right to correct information which they think is problematic.

Singapore’s Protection Against Falsehood and Online Manipulation Act empowers the government to correct or release news stories. This occurred in the State Times Review after the media accused the government of covering up cases of COVID-19. Likewise, the Cambodian government has the power to prohibit the dissemination of information deemed to cause “riots, fear or chaos.”

“Journalism is a very dangerous profession today,” said Maria Ressa at Time.com. “But this profession is more important than ever. We have to survive or we will lose a lot. “

By Permata Adinda, Kebebasan Pers di Asia Tenggara dalam Bahaya?

Featured image credit: Mother’s Prayer by Mark Chaves

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed?

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed During the Term of President Jokowi?

By Budiman Tanuredjo, Kompas Daily,  4 July 2017

KOMPAS, Jakarta – The actions of the Indonesian House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) have become more and more absurd. The Committee of Inquiry is going on safari to Pondok Bambu and Sukamiskin prisons to meet with prisoners convicted of corruption offenses. The Committee hopes to find information on how the corruption convicts were treated inappropriately by the KPK.

“We want to look for information about anything inappropriate experienced by the prisoners while they were either witnesses, suspects or prisoners convicted in corruption cases,” said Deputy Chairman of the Inquiry Committee, Rep. Risa Mariska (PDIP-West Java), the representative for the district that includes the cities of Bogor and Bekasi. She said the Inquiry Committee has received information about the prisoners being treated improperly when they were interrogated by the KPK.

There is little doubt the Inquiry Committee will have any trouble meeting any of the many corruption prisoners. Take the former Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Akil Mochtar, for example, or former Democrat Party Representative and party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, former Democrat Party Representative and party secretary-general Anas Urbaningrum, former Democrat Party Representative Angelina Sondakh, former Banten province governor Atut Chosiyah, or any number of others. It isn’t hard to guess that they will provide any amount of ammunition with which to damage the KPK as an ad hoc institution resulting eventually in the KPK being either abolished or neutralized.

Parahyangan University criminal law lecturer Agustinus Pohan believes that the effort of the Inquiry Committee is an attempt by politicians to take revenge on the KPK. “Now the fight against corruption has to contend with white-collar criminals who want to prove their ability to exact payback,” Pohan said.

Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK, Rep. Taufiqulhadi (Nasdem-East Java) planned to call constitutional law experts to prove the legality of the Inquiry. “Some say this inquiry isn’t appropriate. Different opinions are all normal, but we hope the debate stays balanced,” said the National Democrat Party politician according to Kompas Daily on 30 June 2017.

The Inquiry Committee action in calling constitutional law experts Professor Dr Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Professor Jimly Asshiddiqie to appear will be a priority before it summons Rep. Miryam S. Haryani (Hanura-West Java) who has been arrested by the KPK. Miryam was declared a suspect by the KPK over allegations she provided false information. Her case is to go to trial soon.

The origins of the House Inquiry Committee started with the KPK leadership rejecting requests from House of Representatives Commission III to make public recordings of the questioning of Miryam Haryani by KPK investigators. The KPK refused to make the recordings public before her trial. Up to now, recordings resulting from wiretaps have always been made public during the trials. Having previously appeared as a witness in the Criminal Corruption Court, Miryam retracted part of her testimony that was contained in the brief of evidence, giving as the reason that she had been coerced by KPK investigators.

In response to this retraction of her testimony in the brief of evidence, senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was examined as a witness in the trial. Novel testified there had been no intimidation or coercion. Novel went so far as to claim Miryam had been induced by certain fellow members of the House of Representatives to retract her testimony in the brief of evidence, mentioning several names, including Rep. Bambang Soesatyo (Golkar-Central Java) and Rep. Masinton Pasaribu (PDIP-Jakarta), as the members who had influenced Miryam. She denied having ever mentioned their names and from this House Commission III request that the KPK make the recordings public, which the KPK refused to do.

Whether it’s related or not is not known, however, several days after testifying, Novel Baswedan was the target of an acid attack by an unknown assailant. His eyesight was damaged. He was taken to hospital and is still receiving ongoing treatment. Police are still investigating the case, but so far the person who sprayed Novel with acid has not been identified.

After undergoing further questioning at the KPK’s Jakarta offices on Wednesday 21 June, Hanura Party politician Rep. Miryam S. Haryani’s brief of evidence was declared complete (that is, Form 21 was issued) and ready for trial in relation to the allegation she provided false testimony in the electronic identity card (e-KTP) project implementation corruption trial.

Strong Resistance

The House of Representatives Inquiry Committee into the KPK apparently needs to find political support from constitutional law experts. Earlier, 357 academics from a range of universities and disciplines published an open letter rejecting the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK on a number of grounds. The 357 academics included Professor Dr Mahfud MD, Professor Dr Denny Indrayana, Professor Dr Rhenald Kasali, and many other prominent academics.

Calling experts in constitutional law, or calling anyone else, is clearly completely valid. The Inquiry Committee obviously has statutory authority to do this. No one denies that the House of Representatives has a right of inquiry, the right of interpellation, and the right to express opinions. However, what has, in fact, become an issue is whether it is proper for the House to exercise the right of inquiry in relation to the KPK. The KPK is a law enforcement agency and an independent authority, not part of the government. Is the use of the right of inquiry by the House of Representatives consistent with the will of the people it represents?

Resistance to the use of the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry for the KPK has indeed been strong. The open letter of 357 academics from numerous universities and disciplines is one expression of this. These academics have very clearly framed the intention of the House of Representatives in using the right of inquiry as being intended to weaken the KPK. The academics have rejected the use of the House right of inquiry for the KPK.

At present, the KPK is investigating a case of alleged corruption involving the procurement of a national electronic identity card (e-KTP) involving a number of House members, including House Speaker Rep. Setya Novanto (Golkar-East Nusa Tenggara), now banned from traveling overseas. The alleged loss to the public purse is substantial.

A Kompas Daily poll of Monday 8 May 2017 also contained the same message. As many as 58.9 percent of respondents said the House decision to use the right of inquiry did not represent the interests of the community. While 35.6 percent thought it did represent the interests of the community. Most respondents (72.4 percent) believed the use of the House right of inquiry into the KPK was related to the KPK’s investigation into the electronic identity card project corruption case.

In the virtual world, internet user Virgo Sulianti Gohardi gathered support for a petition against the right of inquiry on the site Change.org. As of midday Friday 30 May 2017, the petition had been signed by 44,350 people. Virgo’s target for the petition had been 50,000 signatures.

In terms of representation theory, the formation of the House of Representative Committee of Inquiry into the KPK really does not have social legitimacy, or, it has a very low level of representation. Moreover, the Democrat Party (PD), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions have all refused to join the Committee of Inquiry.

“The Democrats are not responsible for anything in the Inquiry Committee,” said House Deputy Speaker from the Democrat Party Rep. Agus Hermanto (DP-Central Java) at the House of Representatives building, while stressing that the Democrat Party does not agree with the House Committee of Inquiry into the KPK.

“We reject the weakening of the KPK through the Inquiry. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is being consistent by not sending any members, but the PKS is still critical of the KPK,” said the head of the PKS Advisory Council, Rep. Hidayat Nur Wahid (PKS-Jakarta). National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Rep. Muhaimin Iskandar (PKB-East Java) was also of the same opinion, rejecting the use of a House committee of inquiry into the KPK.

History of House Inquiries

The right of inquiry is a constitutional right of Indonesia’s House of Representatives. No one can deny this. Article 20A Paragraph 2 of the 1945 Constitution explicitly regulates the right of inquiry. During the period of parliamentary government in the 1950s, the right of inquiry was also regulated by statute by Public Law No. 6/1954 concerning the Right of Inquiry.

In Indonesia’s history, the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry was first used in 1959 in a resolution by RM Margono Djojohadikusumo that the House use the right to inquire into attempts by the government to obtain foreign exchange reserves and how the reserves were being used. As recorded by Subardjo in The Use of the Right of Inquiry by the Indonesian House of Representatives in Overseeing Government Policy, a committee of inquiry during the first cabinet of Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo (30 July 1953 to 12 August 1955) was given six months. However, this was subsequently extended twice, and the committee completed its work in March 1956, during the administration of Prime Minister Burhanuddin Harahap (12 August 1955 to 24 March 1956). Unfortunately, the fate of this committee of inquiry and its results are unclear.

During the New Order period, the House of Representatives also used the right of inquiry several times in relation to the case of the state-owned oil company Pertamina. However, efforts to shake the New Order government failed and were rejected by a plenary session of the House. The New Order government was strong enough to prevent the use of the right of inquiry, initiated by Santoso Danuseputro (PDI) and HM Syarakwie Basri (FPP).

In the Reformasi (Reform) period, the right of inquiry has also been used. However, all the targets of the right of inquiry have been the government, and this is consistent with the legislation.

Legislation on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislative assemblies (DPRD) regulates the right of inquiry. Article 79 concerning the Rights of the House of Representatives provides among other things that the House of Representatives possesses the right of inquiry. The right of inquiry is the right of the House of Representatives to investigate the implementation of a law and/or government policy which is related to important, strategic matters, and which has a wide-spread impact on the life of the community, nation, and state which allegedly conflicts with the law. The legislation also provides that an inquiry committee must be joined by all House of Representatives’ factions.

From the standpoint of legality, the House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the KPK does not satisfy the requirements for legality. Historically, the right of inquiry was given to the House of Representatives to investigate government policies that conflict with the law. Whether it was the New Order government or post-Reform governments, it has only been the current 2014-2019 House of Representatives which has innovated by using the right of inquiry for a national commission, here the KPK. The KPK is not the government. The KPK is a law enforcement agency.

The law also requires that an inquiry committee draw members from all factions in the House of Representatives. Therefore, when the Democrat Party (DP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions each failed to send representatives, the jurisdictional legitimacy of the Committee of Inquiry became problematic.

Members of the public in the Healthy Indonesia Movement unfurled posters and banners in front of the offices of the KPK in Jakarta on Thursday 15 June. Consisting of writers, artists, and anti-corruption activists, the crowd declared that it rejected the inquiry currently being rolled out by the House of Representatives.

From a political perspective, those who initiated the use of the right of inquiry are overwhelmingly from the parties which support the government. They are the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) House faction, the main supporter of the government of President Joko Widodo, together with the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the People’s Conscience Party (Partai Hanura). This coalition of government supporters is the group that has been keen to urge the use of the House right of inquiry.

Then there is President Jokowi. He has been taken hostage by party officials of his own PDIP. President Jokowi has said he cannot interfere in the affairs of the House of Representatives because a committee of inquiry is the business of the House. President Jokowi hoped only that the KPK is further strengthened.

President Jokowi’s attitude towards the KPK feels different this time. When there was a conflict between the KPK and the Indonesian National Police, with the public supporting the KPK, President Jokowi took a firm political position in support of the KPK. Likewise, when the KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was to be arrested, President Jokowi called loudly for Novel not to be arrested. However, this time, President Jokowi is like a hostage, allowing the KPK to be de-legitimized by a coalition of his own supporters in the House of Representatives.

Will the KPK be paralyzed during the term of President Joko Widodo? History will record the answer.

 


Source: Akankah KPK Lumpuh di Era Presiden Jokowi? Kompas daily newspaper, 4 July 2017.

Also see Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Karya Muhammad Husnit, Serambi Ilmu Semesta, 2014.

A Deep Dive Into Problematic Aspects of Indonesia’s Criminal Code Bill

Also take a look at Criminal Code Bill: Smells of Colonialism, Minimal Protections for the Public! Approval Must Not Be Forced Through!

Op-Ed: Megawati and the Corruption Eradication Commission

By Luky Djan

(Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Initiatives (ISI) and former jury member for the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award)

The effort to eradicate corruption will always travel a rocky road. Indeed anyone acting against corruption has to face off directly against criminals working together in an organized group. Criminal corruption is almost certain to be perpetrated jointly as a conspiracy in conjunction with others and in a way that is highly organized. Organized criminal corruption has a stronger staying power than other forms of organized crime because the group of perpetrators involved typically occupy positions of formal authority and inevitably command considerable resources.

For this reason, anyone going up against the so-called “criminals in uniforms” has to steel him or herself with both ingenuity and resilience. He or she also must not be surprised at the range of strategies deployed to weaken the agenda and institutions endeavoring to eradicate corruption which will vary from the intervention of those in power to the use of physical violence.

Is the anti-corruption agenda in this country driving towards a yellow light? Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) is the front-line vanguard and driving force in the fight against corruption and is now once more facing strong headwinds. The institution has weathered past tests successfully. Hopefully, the current crisis will likewise result in the strengthening of efforts to defeat corruption. The experience of South Korea and Thailand can provide lessons on the conditions under which institutions are tamed, and those under which anti-corruption efforts are successful. The fate of anti-corruption bodies in these places is quite tragic.

Thailand’s National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC)

Prospects for the fight against corruption in Asia are currently entering their twilight years. Anti-corruption institutions are collapsing. The anti-corruption agenda in South Korea commenced when as leader of the opposition to the military regime Kim Dae-jung became President in February 1998. Kim’s main strategy was spearheaded by an initiative to pass legislation establishing an anti-corruption commission in August 1999. Kim’s idea generated resistance from politicians and legislators This resulted in anti-corruption legislation taking two years to produce, passing finally on 24 July 2001. Following the enactment of the legislation, opposition emerged to the establishment of an anti-corruption commission from the public prosecutor’s office as well as the police. The Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was finally formed six months later in January 2002.

The KICAC’s findings shook the corrupt relations between those in power and the chaebol business conglomerates and in their wake caught senior government officials and businessmen. The breakthrough began to unsettle the corrupt, even though the KICAC was in fact not as powerful as its other Asian counterparts, such as Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Thailand’s NCCC or Indonesia’s KPK, because the KICAC was not given investigative or prosecutorial functions. Following two periods of progressive leadership under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, efforts to shake the KICAC gained momentum after 25 February 2008 when the government changed to the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak.

On 29 February 2008, after only three days in office, President Lee merged the KICAC with two other institutions, the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (an administrative decisions court similar to Indonesia’s Public Administration Court (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara or PTUN)), forming the Anti-Corruption Civil Rights Commission (ACRC). The sway of the KICAC declined, with the new body becoming more of a think tank with the primary function of preventing corruption. The major reason for the reduction in the power of the KICAC was the view that its breakthroughs in this period had hampered economic growth. President Lee’s background as an executive of one of the chaebol conglomerates meant that he viewed the fight against corruption as a hindrance to economic growth.

Of course the public reacted, opposing the merger. Transparency International Korea Chairman Geo-Sung Kim believes that economic growth is driven by a clean business environment and that an organization like the KICAC is necessary to achieve this. While ACRC commissioners are selected by and are responsible to the president, KICAC commissioners were selected by the Supreme Court, legislature and president. There are now valid concerns over the ACRC’s loss of independence.

In Thailand, following the establishment of the People’s Constitution in 1997, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was formed in November 1999. This agency represented a strengthening of the previous anti-corruption institution, the Counter Corruption Commission or CCC, which had possessed limited functions and been less independent. The NCCC was responsible to the Senate and its nine commissioners were nominated by the Thai Senate and confirmed by the King. The NCCC took direct action by revealing the embezzlement of assets by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart which led to his resignation. Two months later, the NCCC uncovered a 30 million baht bribery scandal which led to the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Nibhat Bhukkanasut.

The NCCC’s next target was a tax evasion scandal and dishonesty in the public wealth declaration filed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This case put Thaksin’s political career at stake. However, after the legislative elections in 2001 which handed control of the Senate to Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin soon gained control of the Supreme Court, leading to the asset embezzlement case being frozen. As payback, allegations were made against the nine NCCC commissioners alleging criminal conduct and making accusations of involvement in a conflict of interests by increasing their monthly salary of 45,000 baht (approximately 25 million rupiah). The ensuing investigation eventually forced the commissioners to resign in May 2005.

Having control of the majority in parliament, Thaksin had no difficulty installing ‘puppet commissioners’ (Pasuk and Baker, 2004). Following a power shift in a military coup, the military junta replaced the NCCC on 15 July 2008 with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The NACC became an instrument for the removal of political opponents of the Thai military regime.

Megawati’s Legacy

Every leader possesses a legacy that becomes a monument to his or her success. President Sukarno created magnificent iconic landmarks ranging from Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK) to Istiqlal Mosque and the statues which adorn the capital. Times, however, change and monuments today no longer take the form of urban architectural landmarks. On the contrary, they now represent elements of constitutional architecture. President Habibie left monuments in the form of the rights of freedom of assembly and association, multi-party elections, freedom of the press and regional autonomy. President Abdurrahman Wahid reorganized the function and position of the Indonesian Armed Forces and strengthened respect for pluralism and human rights.

Megawati carved out important milestones in the nation’s efforts against corruption. Probably not many people remember that on 27 December 2002 Megawati signed into force Law No. 30/2002 concerning the Corruption Eradication Commission. This institution represented the spearhead and hope of the nation for the elimination of the misuse of power in the form of looting public resources by organized criminal groups who possess political power and financial strength.

So the commitment of President Megawati to try to remove all forms of criminal corruption can not be doubted. A year later, the Corruption Eradication Commission was officially established. This writer’s experience ranges from the drafting of the Commission bill to the establishment of the Commission itself which at the time was appropriately resourced by the government. If the commitment to the eradication of corruption had not been strong, it would have been simple to abort the drafting of the bill or to stall for time over the establishment of the Commission. Likewise, when on a number of occasions the Commission has investigated cases of corruption involving senior politicians from her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati did not intervene in the Commission.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the Commission’s efforts to strengthen measures aimed at combating corruption, a wave of attacks have emerged from all directions, including the PDIP. Reports by a member of Indoneisa’s House of Representatives (relating to legal action launched over the disputed election of the head of West Kotawaringin Regency in Central Kalimantan) have resulted in a storm of crisis over the very existence of the institution of the Commission and the entire effort to combat corruption. This writer believes these reports have destabilized the Commission because they have led to an institutional crisis cause by a commissioner of the anti-corruption agency being named a suspect in a criminal investigation.

It is regrettable that this has happened because, as noted above, President Megawati, both as head of state when in power and today as party chairwoman, has not taken action to weaken the Commission. As a mother, Megawati fully understands that the Corruption Eradication Commission is a child of her government for opposing the phantom of corruption that has taken root and become entrenched.

The experience of South Korea and Thailand show that anti-corruption commissions will be stunted, and even amputated, by subsequent regimes. President Jokowi himself has a real track record in promoting an anti-corruption agenda. He is a recipient of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award (BHACA) which clearly demonstrates he possesses a strong commitment to the eradication of corruption. The current crisis should be resolved with prudence and expedition. The community is now waiting for action from President Jokowi as “party official” to strengthen both efforts to eradicate corruption and the Commission which as an institution is one of Megawati’s important legacies.


Published in Kompas Daily, Thursday 29 January 2015 and http://youthproactive.com/expert-says/megawati-dan-kpk/

Featured image credit: Batik maker applying melted wax to fabric, Sultan’s Palace (Kraton), Yogyakarta by Rahiman Madli