Unlike what is happening in Thailand, Indonesia has taken recent steps to tackle the widespread corruption that is believed to plague Asean’s biggest country.
In 2002, in the first flush of Indonesia’s post-Suharto era, then-President Megawati Sukarnoputri pushed a law through the legislature establishing the Corruption Eradication Commission. The agency, a decade later, may actually be altering the political landscape of the country.
Certainly, cleaning up corruption completely in a country as lawless and sprawling as Indonesia may be impossible. Nonetheless, since it began operations in late 2003, the KPK, as it is known by its Indonesian initials, has become a fearsome force with a staff of 750 that has gone after people close enough to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to help cost him his cachet as a reformer and bring his political party to its knees.
It has recently counted coup with important scalps from three of the country’s most prominent political parties including the president’s own ruling Democrats, reducing the party’s political footprint drastically and destroying its image as the party of political rectitude. It has taken on top members of the National Police, arrested the nation’s chief oil and gas regulator and charged the head of the Constitutional Court with accepting bribes.
Already widely praised at home, the KPK was given a Ramon Magsaysay award for 2013, often described as Asia’s Nobel Prize, for its “greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia.”
“Given the steady drip-drip-drip of cases [brought by the KPK] I think these guys are on a campaign that is making them the most important political force in this country,” said a veteran political observer in Jakarta. “It has basically destroyed Yudhoyono and his political party. You could argue that it is not just Jokowi’s [Jakarta Gov. Joko Widowo’s] popularity and clean image but public anger with the corruption exposed by the KPK that is redrawing the political map for 2014.”