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Indonesian President's Nominee for Police Chief Named Corruption Suspect

FILE - Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
FILE - Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s sole pick for national police chief backfired this week after the country's anti-graft body named the candidate a suspect in a corruption case. The president’s choice has raised questions about his commitment to clean governance and his political independence.

Just days after being nominated by the president for national police chief, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission named Budi Gunawan a corruption suspect.

The three-star police general is being investigated in connection with bribery and gratuity violations of the 1999 corruption law, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. This week he denied any allegations of corruption, telling reporters he had nothing to hide.

Gunawan’s personal wealth has reportedly ballooned by more than $1.3 million over the past five years - a sum impossible to amass on a legitimate Indonesian police wage alone.

According to the anti-graft body, President Joko Widodo, known here as Jokowi, was warned about Gunawan months ago when he asked the anti-graft body to vet his Cabinet choices.

Ade Irawan, a researcher from Indonesian Corruption Watch, said the president’s decision to nominate Gunawan even though he knew he was being investigated reveals that the president's independence is compromised.

The anti-graft spokesperson called on the president to immediately withdraw his nomination, especially because since its inception in 2002 the anti-graft body has maintained a 100 percent conviction rate.

The president nominated Gunawan last week as the sole candidate to replace incumbent chief General Sutarman, who is scheduled to retire in October.

Gunawan is a close figure to Megawati Sukarnoputri, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, of which President Widodo is a member.

Applauded for the way he cleaned up the Jakarta administration as governor, there were high hopes the new president could live up to his promises to boost transparency at the national level.

But critics say his recent appointments show the president has become a politician of compromise.

In November last year, Widodo was attacked for his surprise appointment of H.M Prasetyo as attorney general, a choice that was widely seen as political.

Prasetyo was previously a member of Nasdem, a party that is in Widodo’s coalition, and beat several other candidates that had stronger stances on fighting graft.

Aleksius Jemadu, dean of political science at Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta, pointed out the pressures facing Widodo, both from the public hoping for improved governance and from his own party.

“I think the president has unnecessarily put himself in a complicated situation about his credibility as a reformist promoting good governance. Indonesian people have put so much hope on this president... I think the least we can say is that he is not his own man,” said Jemadu.

The Indonesian police force is one of the most corrupt institutions in a country that ranks 107 out of 175 on Transparency International’s 2014 corruption index.