Indonesia: Anti-corruption protests follow bank bailout

On December 9, 2009, protests against corruption were held in Indonesia. Above are those organised by the People's Democratic Party. Photos by Roso Suroso, Ririn Sefsani, Ulfa Ilyas and Rudi Hartono. Made with Slideshow Embed Tool.

December 9, 2009 -- The great photos above are of a mass demonstration in Jakarta on International Anti-corruption Day December 9, 2009, just one of many demonstrations against corruption have been sweeping Indonesia protesting allegations that a US$600 million government bailout was given to Century Bank on condition that some of the money be used to fund President Yudhoyono's re-election campaign.

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and Green Left Weekly's Peter Boyle asked Dominggus Oktavanius, a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PRD), about this latest wave of demonstations.

How big are the demonstrations? And in which cities have there been protests? What political forces have organised these protests?

Dominggus: Tens of thousands of people were marching down the streets of Jakarta and Makasar. Other smaller demonstrations took place all over Indonesia. These demonstrations involved students and youngsters, besides of course the PRD and mass organisations (labour and poor people). A wide range of political groups were involved in organising these protest. They range from across the political spectrum, socialist, nationalist to religious.

Of course there are different perspectives represented by these political forces, but we see a common enthusiasm to unite to fight against corruption. We hope that this common entusiasm will prove to be infectious because the eradication of corruption can only be effective if it involves organised mass participation.

What is the evidence for these allegations about Yudhoyono's role in the Centruy Bank scandal?

The government's Emergency Regulation (Perpu) No.4 of 2008 about a safety net for the financial system was signed by Yudhoyono. According to constitution, emergency regulations are only allowed to be made by the government in a state of emergency and with the House of Representatives’ approval. At that time, the state of emergency was being questioned, and the House of Representatives didn’t give its approval, yet the emergency regulation was imposed by the executive to give giving 6.7 trillion rupiahs to bailout the Century Bank.

Article 29 of the Emergency Regulation exempted that minister of finance Sri Mulyani, Indonesian Bank’s governor Boediono and “everyone who carries the duty” from any punishment. This means that Yudhoyono gave the power and protection for criminal actions by government officials and everyone involved in the scandal. So, Yudhoyono has violated the constitution.

This Century Bank scandal follows the arrests of two members of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which was popularly seen as attempt by the police and attorney general's office to cripple a commission that has prosecuted around 150 high-level politicians and law enforcement officials since its formation in 2003. Has Yudhoyono taken any serious action against this outrage?

The government's corruption became even clearer to the people when Yudhoyono attempted to weaken the KPK by planning to arrest several of its leading officials. It’s clear that Yudhoyono was attempting to obstruct KPK’s effort to investigate the Century Bank scandal. People’s distrust of the Yudhoyono government is increasing because of his delay in arresting corrupt conglomerates, police and attorney general office officials. They, based on telephone records, have conspired to weaken the KPK.

Yudhoyono has often claimed to be in the frontline of corruption eradication, but when corruption felonies take place right before his eyes, he lets the perpetrators go free. It makes people wonder what is going on.

Of course, the KPK as an institution that is part of a corrupt system cannot be assured of being totally clean. Nevertheless, since it was formed in 2003, its achievements in cracking down on corrupt officials (which are actually still selective) has given many people people high hopes in this institution. Because of that, people get angry when this institution is interfered with by the government.

Parliament is investigating the bailout and the possible roles played by arch-neoliberal vice-president Boediono and finance minister Sri Mulyani in orchestrating a deal. Do you expect parliament to find the truth and take action against the corrupt politicians?

No. The special committee formed in the parliament is being controlled by Yudhoyono supporters. Out of 30 members of this committee, only seven are from outside the ruling coalition of parties. The chief of the committee, Idrus Marcham, is a Golkar politician who is well known as an opportunist and is suspected of being involved in a big sugar import scandal. This committee is an attempt by Yudhoyono and parties of the elite to channel people’s anxiety. It will end with compromises and concessions that relieve the government of blame.

What is the potential for these corruption scandals to spark a new popular movement against the neo-liberal government of Yudhoyono?

We are trying to evaluate this carefully. Without doubt, Yudhoyono’s credibility is collapsing in the eyes of the people, even in the eyes some of his disappointed supporters and voters. His aggressive attitude in every speech he has made in response to popular demands has deepened the scandal.

This is taking place in the context of the mass of people remaining poor and deprived of the basic needs for survival because of the neoliberal regime’s policy. The prospects of a new mass uprising depend on two things: first, whether the anti-Yudhoyono regime forces can unite on a common platform of struggle, and second, the hard work to give a perspective of real change to majority of people, who are still largely non-ideological and not involved in political struggle.

Up until now the corruption issue has been used by the neoliberals to avoid the ideological discussion about the root causes of mass poverty. They argue that “corruption” is the only cause of poverty in Indonesia. But the only corruption which they are interested in ending is the corruption that disrupts their profit accumulation. They don't really care for the people’s situation.

They almost succeeded in building a myth that Yudhoyono's neoliberal regime is a "clean" government. But Century Bank scandal has knocked down this myth.