JAKARTA: President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo (pic) has denied allegations that he has resorted to unsavoury tactics as commanding officer, including trying to derail a high-profile graft probe involving a key political ally, a moment that foreshadowed the end of the country’s powerful antigraft agency.
The incumbent, barred from reelection but enjoying some of the highest approval ratings of any sitting president, has had to defend himself from a recent string of accusations levelled by former allies – all of which have suggested that Jokowi would go to lengths to achieve a desired outcome.
Allegations emerged as the nation enters campaign season, and come mostly from figures associated with presidential candidates Ganjar Pranowo or Anies Baswedan – rivals of frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, whose victory next year would mean Jokowi’s interests are secured for another five years through his eldest son, vice-presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka.
Speaking to reporters on Monday (Dec 4), Jokowi denied having instructed a former head of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to cease a 2017 investigation into then-House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto.
At the time, Setya was chairman of the Golkar Party, a key ally in Jokowi’s government. He would go on to be convicted in one of the nation’s highest-profile graft cases in recent memory.
Jokowi pointed to his own statement in November of that year that legal proceedings should continue, and that the case ultimately concluded with a heavy 15-year prison sentence for the former House speaker.
“What’s the point of making all this noise? What interest does it serve and for what purpose?” Jokowi quizzed reporters in Jakarta on Monday. He also claimed there was no official record of him summoning then-KPK chief Agus Rahardjo to call off the investigation into Setya.
Another reporter quizzed the President about a different allegation, in which he was supposed to have offered the post of defence minister to National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar, before eventually handing it to former rival Prabowo as an olive branch.
“Ministerial [appointments] are entirely the president’s prerogative,” Jokowi proclaimed.
“There’s no such thing as [promising seats to people]. That never happened.”
Jokowi’s statement comes hot on the heels of a string of bombshell confessions from former KPK chief Agus and Muhaimin, a current vice presidential candidate.
Speaking during a televised interview with news broadcaster KompasTV last week, Agus revealed that Jokowi “shouted at” him during an off-the-books meeting in 2017, during which Jokowi ordered the KPK to drop its probe.
“Three weeks prior, I issued an investigation order. And at the KPK, there is no such thing as a warrant to terminate an investigation [as is common in the police], so it was impossible for me to call it off,” Agus said.
Agus alleged that Jokowi’s inability to stop the KPK from prosecuting Setya was one of the reasons behind the controversial 2019 amendment to the KPK Law, seen widely by antigraft activists as the Jokowi administration’s attempt to systematically defang the ad hoc agency.
Since the law’s revision, the KPK has fallen into a crisis of confidence, culminating in the naming of its senior cop-turned-leader, Firli Bahuri, as a suspect in an extortion case.
Meanwhile, Muhaimin, whose party had backed Jokowi’s 2014 and 2019 presidential bids, said during a seminar in late November that he was initially promised the defence minister position in Jokowi’s 2019 cabinet, only to be passed over for Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo.
“Prabowo suddenly became a minister. Originally, I was promised the defence minister position. That was the deal,” Muhaimin said.
Another former Jokowi ally, former religious affairs minister Fachrul Razi, said in a podcast in early November that he was booted out of the cabinet after he opposed Jokowi’s suggestion to disband the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and advised the government to “guide” them instead.
Fachrul ended up being taken out of the cabinet in December 2020, days before the government officially disbanded the FPI following a string of scuffles with the Jokowi administration that stemmed from the return of the FPI’s firebrand leader Rizieq Shihab from self-exile in Saudi Arabia.
Political analyst Firman Noor of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) said on Monday that these claims against Jokowi were either politically motivated to hurt Prabowo’s presidential bid, in which Jokowi has an indirect stake, or had come from neutral observers who have grown disillusioned with the current administration.
“There are those who are genuinely concerned that the country is straying away from democracy, and those who have a political motive to hurt Jokowi’s interests by proxy of Prabowo’s candidacy.
Either way, these two motivations are now aligned with each other,” Firman said.
Muhaimin is the running mate of opposition figurehead Anies, and Fachrul has joined the pair’s campaign team. Former KPK chairman Agus currently remains unaffiliated, but his statements have been used by campaigners for Ganjar and his running mate, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD.
Ganjar is a politician of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which is in the throes of an acrimonious split with Jokowi, and has recruited Mahfud as a way to discredit the outgoing President.
“Revealing the [controversies] of Jokowi’s presidency is the same as going on the offence against Prabowo and Jokowi’s son,” Firman said. - The Jakarta Post/ANN