Jakarta. President Joko Widodo may have taken the House of Representatives’ recess period into consideration when he announced he was dropping the appointment of his legislative-supported pick for national police chief this week, experts said.
Joko has faced massive public outcry over his nomination of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan, who was last month named a graft suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK.
On Wednesday, however, nearly six weeks since his Jan. 9 announcement of Budi’s nomination, Joko finally announced he was reneging on his initial decision and put forward Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti, the deputy police chief, for the top post.
The move, particularly the timing of it, seemed calculated, analysts noted.
The House ended its sitting period last week, dampening calls for Joko’s impeachment for disrespecting the legislature, which had unanimously supported his decision to nominate Budi, despite his suspect status.
Political observer Aleksius Jemadu of Pelita Harapan University suggested that Joko may have considered Budi an unfit candidate for National Police chief all along and that his indecisiveness was a strategy to defy elites within his own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.
Budi was widely believed to have been pushed onto the president by PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri, whom the police general had served as a security aide during her brief stint as president from 2001 to 2004.
“Joko has obviously made a decision which contradicts the will of his party and the coalition supporting him,” Aleksius told the Jakarta Globe.
“Given the fact that he announced Badrodin’s nomination during the House’s recess period indicated that he never intended to [inaugurate Budi].”
Joko has previously said he would wait for the South Jakarta District Court to issue a ruling on a pretrial motion lodged by Budi to have his suspect status revoked.
The court on Monday ruled in favor of Budi, saying the antigraft body lacked jurisdiction to investigate bribery accusations involving irregularly large transactions in his bank account.
Aleksius sees Joko’s decision to drop Budi’s nomination despite the court ruling as further evidence that the president is refusing to bow down to political pressures from his inner circle.
Joko now has one month before the House is back in session on March 23 to lobby party leaders both inside his coalition and opposition parties.
“He has time to convince every possible faction [inside the House] to see to it that his new choice [Badrodin] is accepted.” Aleksius said.
House Speaker Setya Novanto said it would be next to impossible to convince all lawmakers to end their recess period and go back to the House in order to stage a confirmation hearing on Badrodin.
“It is impossible to discuss [Badrodin’s candidacy] at this moment. All [House] members are back in their electoral regions to gather their people’s aspirations,” the Golkar politician said.
The recess period is also preventing parties from convening to determine their political stance on the matter, including the PDI-P.
“Our party has not take any official stance,” said PDI-P lawmaker Bambang Wuryanto, while his colleague, T.B. Hasanuddin, called on fellow PDI-P politicians to “respect the president’s decision.”
National Democrat Party (NasDem) secretary general Patrice Rio Capella seemed optimistic that all parties inside the House would be able to accept Badrodin’s nomination.
“The political heat has died down, so I think the House can accept [Badrodin],” he said. “I think Joko’s decision is for the best. There has been too much energy and thought wasted over this controversy.”
Bara Hasibuan from the opposition National Mandate Party (PAN), echoed his views, saying: “The president has made concrete steps to save the KPK, an institution we so greatly need. This is good news for our reform agenda.”
Not everyone shared the same positive sentiments, however, with Arsul Sani of the United Development Party (PPP) pointing out that like Budi, Badrodin had also been flagged by the country’s anti-money-laundering agency as one of 23 police generals with suspiciously large bank accounts in 2010.
“We don’t want what happened to [Budi] repeating with [Badrodin],” Arsul said, referring to the KPK investigation.
Nico Harjanto, director of think tank Populii Center, warned of political maneuvering away from the public eye — lawmakers may openly praise Joko for his stance, but behind closed doors they could still conspire to foil Badrodin’s nomination or even seek to have Joko impeached.
Lucius Karus of the political watchdog Concerned Citizens for the Indonesian Legislature (Formappi) agreed, but added that any threat may only be an excuse for some party elites to engage in political horse-trading with the president.
Joko, he said, must not take veiled or publicly made threats to impeach him seriously and make more compromises.
“We mustn’t let the House use the [National Police chief] controversy as a political commodity to advance their own parties,” he said.
Cecep Hidayat, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, predicted that over the next month Joko might call for a meeting with leaders of his own coalition, as well as a separate audience with leaders of the opposition — including his former rival, Prabowo Subianto, whom he spoke to last month.
Joko “has bought himself time to open political lines of communication, whether with his coalition or with the opposition at the House,” Cecep said. “He has time to lobby key lawmakers. He might as well meet with Prabowo to seek support and smooth Badrodin’s path to inauguration because the key now lies with the House.
“There’s always the possibility of an internal rift widening within the main parties [of Joko’s coalition]. It depends on how far Megawati is willing to compromise with the president’s decisions.”
Aleksius doubted Megawati would openly oppose Joko’s decision to drop Budi, predicting the PDI-P would not risk losing seats inside Joko’s cabinet, which includes that of Megawati’s daughter, Puan Maharani, the coordinating minister for public welfare.
Opposing Joko could serve a blow to the PDI-P’s popularity as the move would be seen as supporting a troublesome candidate and going against reform.
“The party realizes they would lose public sympathy if they oppose him. It would tarnish their image.” Aleksius said.
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