If you think an eight-month election campaign is too long, spare a thought for Indonesian voters. They won’t go to the national polls until mid-2014 but are already being bombarded by the 10 parties approved in January to take part in the presidential race.
Incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, cannot stand again. That’s a pity for his Democratic Party, which, according to a poll by SMRC released on 3 February, does not enjoy the same popularity as its leader. The reason – people’s perception that it is the most corrupt of all the political parties.
Corruption is a ubiquitous topic in Indonesia. The media reports incessantly on high-profile cases. Last week, The Jakarta Post published an investigation into Yudhoyono’s family’s tax returns. No specific allegations were made but the implication is that his sons have undeclared income streams. The story is typical: a concentration on celebrity cases, with little analysis of the causes of this deep-rooted problem in Indonesia.
KKN (Korupsi, Kolusi, Nepotisme) was the slogan of the demonstrators who dealt the final blow to Suharto in May 1998. By then his regime stank. Government and business operated on an entrenched culture of patronage and unwritten rules. The legacy was weak institutions, which in 2013 still need time to strengthen, and a tolerance for facilitation payments and favouritism, which has proved hard to budge.
Corruption remains a slippery concept; difficult to articulate clearly let along eradicate, especially with constrained public finances. Yudhoyono, who vowed to fight KKN when he first campaigned for the presidency, knows this all too well. He has faced constant criticism for not doing enough, but persists with an anti-corruption message.
He started 2013 by declaring: “We realise that corruption eradication must be a national movement. Like an engine, every part must work. Like an orchestra, every member must play well.”
The spotlight now will be on his own family. Other prominent cases involve senior officials, wealthy business people, the police and parliamentarians; a good proportion are women. Many of the news stories turn these people into celebrities. Take, for example, Miranda Goeltom, a US-educated economics professor and once a very senior Bank of Indonesia official.
A Jakarta Post article in January was one among many to concentrate on her clothes: “In her first appearance as a graft defendant at the Jakarta corruption court, former senior deputy governor of Bank Indonesia Miranda Swaray Goeltom looked immaculate despite of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) defendant attire.”
“Miranda looked dashing in the mandatory jacket with its collar turned up and matching grey skirt. With her dyed red hair expensively coiffured, she gave the impression of still being ready to attend the high-society gatherings she frequented until recently.”
Goeltom has been found guilty of bribing members of parliament for their votes in her selection as Bank of Indonesia senior deputy governor in 2004. She is appealing the three-year sentence and 100 million rupiah ($A10,000) fine. Her notoriety rather than evidence may well influence the outcome.
Why did she do it, if she did? The reportage doesn’t say, so I can only speculate. During the New Order, such acts were done with impunity. But by 2004 the KPK was up and running and signalling it meant business. Perhaps she was driven by raw ambition? Perhaps, like others in the Indonesian elite, she still felt immune. That is why cultural change, as well as convictions, are part of the anti-corruption effort in Indonesia.
Indonesian artists are doing their bit. With the support of the KPK, Transparency International and USAID, a group of actors has made a series of very popular short films, collectively named Kita Versus Korupsi (Us v Corruption).
They seek to take the education effort out of the school room and into the realm of people’s daily experience, like that of a young couple who want to get married but need to bribe officials to get the necessary documents. One wants to; the other does not.
Other public figures can help the cause. As the SMRC poll showed, an area where the perception and reality of corruption are rife is politics. With preparations for the 2014 national elections under way, and gubernatorial races already taking place, politicians have an opportunity to tap into the popular desire that they clean up their act.
The Governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, the former police chief who rose to prominence after the Bali bombings, can see the advantages in a new approach. He has set three conditions for his renomination: no money politics, no violence and no smear campaigns.
In the quaint English of The Bali Times: “‘Money politic’ should not be done because he wants this election provides process and learning of clean politics and democracy to Balinese people.” It’s a step in the right direction.
*A former diplomat, served two stints in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in the 1980s, and has been a regular visitor to Indonesia since/canberratimes.com.au