Corruption is ingrained in the history of Indonesia, dating back to before the colonial period. In the era of the Sukarno and Suharto regimes, corruption became rampant among a small clique of capitalist cronies and their networks.
Suharto, for instance, is suspected of embezzling up to US$35 billion (1 trillion baht) during his three decades in power, making him possibly one of the world's all-time most corrupt leaders. Following his fall, the country has pursued many anti-corruption measures through political, legal, foreign involvement and civil service reforms. Indonesia has also pursued social and press freedoms, fiscal transparency and financial monitoring, which are direct strategies against corruption.
Since 2001, as part of its democratisation process, Indonesia has embraced direct presidential elections, the establishment of a constitutional court (Mahkamah Konstitusi or MK), an anti-corruption commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) and a handful of decentralisation laws to ensure the direct voting of governors, mayors and district chiefs.
The KPK was formed in 2002, under president Megawati Sukarnoputri, as an independent institution in charge of investigating, charging and prosecuting high-profile corruption cases, including those involving major financial losses to the state. Subsequently, the first directly elected president in 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who succeeded Ms Megawati, made further efforts to combat corruption by strengthening institutional and legal frameworks. SBY put a special emphasis on the importance of the KPK's independency and accordingly established the Pengadilan Tindak Pidana Korupsi, a special court within the general court system dedicated to examine, hear and decide on corruption cases handled by the KPK.
Despite the reforms mentioned above, along with the process of democratisation, corruption has remained Indonesia's high-profile problem in all branches of government, at national and sub-national levels. While Indonesia's score on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) doubled to 40 in 2018, from 20 in 1998, corruption remains rife, and the country still ranks way below neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.
In fact, Indonesia has recorded large corruption scandals implicating high-profile figures in the circle and epicentre of political power. To mention a few: the scandal of Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance Fund (BLBI) corruption during the presidency of Ms Megawati, with the state financial loss reaching 4.6 trillion rupiahs (9.7 billion baht) and the Bank Century corruption scandal, in the era of the SBY regime, which made the country lose 7.5 trillion rupiahs (16 billion baht). The recent electronic ID card project scandal, involving high-ranking government officials and politicians in the parliament and political parties during the SBY term, is estimated to siphon off 2.3 trillion rupiahs (4.8 billion baht) from the project.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, elected in 2014 and currently running the country for his second term until 2024, first built an image of a leader relatively free of corruption scandals. The people put great hope on his shoulders to command the war against corruption.
Yet, political corruption still persists, with current high-profile scandals. One case in point is the Jiwasraya Insurance Company fraud, which is estimated to have caused 13.7 trillion rupiahs (29 billion baht) in state losses, and implicating tycoon Benny Tjokrosaputro, listed by Forbes as one of Indonesia's 50 wealthiest people with about US$670 million (21 billion baht) to his name, and former Jiwasraya financial director Hary Prasetyo, who once led as an expert in the Presidential Staff Office (KSP).
Instead of tackling the Jiwasraya scandal, President Jokowi asked his coalition parties to reject the formation of a special committee (Pansus) in parliament to investigate the political corruption.
Hence, this gigantic scandal is gone into the ozone. Before the emergence of this mega scandal, President Jokowi had supported and signed the revised KPK bill that would curtail the power of the anti-graft commission.
Back in 2015, President Jokowi did not take any action to prevent the criminalisation of KPK leaders by police for unclear reasons. Also, the government did not take the acid attack on senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan in 2017 seriously. The perpetrators behind the attack have not been found -- even today.
Many suspect President Jokowi's lack of commitment to wage war against corruption, and his manoeuvre to weaken the KPK, were due to the involvement of members in his political circle and party coalition in graft scandals. Of the 31 political party-related corruption cases between 2014 and 2017, 22 were attributed to President Jokowi's party coalition. In 2018, the KPK arrested 21 regional heads in sting operations. Nearly all come from parties that support President Jokowi.
The aforementioned graft cases do not constitute an exhaustive list of corruption scandals during the Jokowi presidency. There are potentially many more unknown corrupt actions channelled through mega infrastructure projects and regulations. It's known that political corruption in Indonesia is particularly pervasive, a notion in line with KPK investigations and prosecutions, that more than 60% of corrupt actors had political dimensions or were related to the republic's political sector.
The persistence of corruption, especially the political one, has seemingly been in line with the high level of electoral frauds. Fraudulent elections in various modes have become a "tradition" in the political reality of Indonesia. One prominent electoral fraud pattern, namely vote-buying or locally known as "money politics", is considered "normal" in the five-year electoral contestation event at national and sub-national levels. For instance, in the 2014 election, approximately one-third of voters were exposed to vote-buying, and a study has put Indonesia third among countries with such malpractice, after Uganda and Benin. The practice of vote-buying remained high or even escalated during last year's election by employing less obvious approaches, such as donations to houses of worship, football clubs or even for the renovation of schools or village roads.
The 2019 poll is known not only as the country's most fraudulent election, but also the deadliest ever in Indonesia's political history, with almost 900 election officials killed. The pervasive practice of vote-buying in Indonesia makes the electoral process much more capital intensive, hence offering politicians opportunities to raise campaign funds from different sources, particularly tycoons and oligarchs. Now, many politicians have become highly dependent on oligarchic sponsorship. As a consequence, when the politicians get elected as national or local leaders or lawmakers, they tend to commit corrupt actions to recover campaign costs and/or substantially reward their oligarchic sponsors in return.
Needless to say, fraudulent elections and political corruption are connected, and there need strategies and measures to curtail them.
Abdurrahman Syebubakar, chairperson of the Institute for Democracy Education (IDE), a Jakarta-based think tank advocating democracy and human development.