Indonesian student groups demand Jokowi use powers to prevent anti-graft agency from being gutted

President Joko Widodo’s reputation for being anti-corruption took a major hit last week when the House of Representatives (DPR) passed a major revision to the laws governing the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) that removed the agency’s independent status and made a number of other changes that watchdogs warned would cripple its graft-busting abilities.

In light of Jokowi stating his opposition to an equally controversial revision to the country’s criminal code (RKUHP) on Friday, student activists across the country are now demanding that the president use his powers to issue a Government Regulation in Lieu of Acts (Perppu) that would at least temporarily block the implementation of the revised law on the KPK (RUU KPK).

That was the message heard at several student-led rallies that took place in several locations across Indonesia today, including ones at Trisakti Reformation Monument in West Jakarta, the offices of the West Jakarta Regional Representative Council (DPRD) in Bandung, the DPRD office of Kepri in Riau and the East Kalimantan DPRD office in Samarinda. The latter two protests reportedly descended into chaotic confrontations between students and authorities. 

The students’ anger reflects a heavy sense of disappointment many feel towards Jokowi for his decision to not oppose RUU KPK and to not issue the Perpu that would at least temporarily block its implementation. 

In the rapid run-up to the revision’s passage, Jokowi reportedly gave his input on the bill, including adding a requirement that he be given the power to pick the members of the KPK oversight council stipulated in the bill. Although that addition was made, it appears the other concerns anti-graft activists warned of went unheeded, with the government giving the DPR its agreement thus ensuring its swift passage.

Those other concerns included the removal of the agency’s independent status, a requirement that KPK investigators obtain permits from the oversight council to conduct wiretaps, as well as the removal of KPK’s ability to recruit its own investigators, requiring them instead to pick from the ranks of the notoriously corrupt police force.

This is especially disappointing as President Jokowi last Friday chose to take a stand against RKUHP, another deeply unpopular piece of legislation, due to widespread public concern about the bill. His opposition makes it extremely unlikely that RKUHP will be passed tomorrow as had previously been planned by legislators.

The fact that Jokowi has not responded similarly to any of the criticism against RUU KPK since it has been passed would seem to imply that he has no intention of taking action against the bill, which members of the DPR have long sought to pass in order to rein in the anti-graft agency that has often targeted and taken down high-powered politicians. If Jokowi allows the revisions to stand, and if they are not defeated in the inevitable court challenges, gutting the KPK and allowing corruption to flourish may become this president’s true legacy.

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