February 13, 2015 / 5:00 AM / in 3 years

Exclusive: Indonesia president says to drop police chief nominee: palace sources

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s new president has decided to drop his nominee for national police chief who is under investigation for corruption, palace officials say, in the biggest political test for the leader since taking office.

Joko Widodo’s decision to nominate Budi Gunawan, who has since been named a bribery suspect by the anti-graft agency, has been met with public outrage.

His month-long dithering over the appointment has eroded the president’s popularity and left Indonesians questioning his readiness to take on powerful vested interests in a country riven with corruption.

Two palace sources, who were present at private meetings where Widodo announced he would drop Gunawan as his nominee, told Reuters interim chief Badrodin Haiti and police generals Dwi Priyatno and Budi Waseso were being considered as replacements.

“Budi Gunawan will not be police chief, the president has already decided,” said one senior palace official this week, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Widodo told reporters on Friday that he would be making an official statement on the police chief “as soon as possible” but declined to elaborate.

Widodo was forced to delay Gunawan’s appointment under public pressure sparked by the decision of the Corruption Eradication Commission to name him a suspect.

An independent team of legal experts, anti-corruption activists and retired police officials appointed by Widodo to ease tensions between the two law enforcement agencies swiftly recommended that Gunawan’s nomination be scrapped.

But Widodo’s perceived reluctance to anger the chief of his backing party, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to whom Gunawan is close, has chipped away at his poll ratings.

A survey published by a local pollster this month showed just 45 percent of Indonesians were satisfied with Widodo’s performance, down drastically from 72 percent in August just after he was elected.

Analysts said backtracking on Gunawan’s nomination would restore some of that support.

“What this shows is that Jokowi is the result of demand-driven movement for change rather than put in place by certain people,” said Jakarta-based political analyst Paul Rowland, using the president’s nickname.

“People are willing to call him out on things they don’t agree with and ultimately he needs that backing to go ahead with reforms.”

One official with Widodo’s backing party PDI-P said the decision to drop Gunawan would be a “bump in the road” for his relationship with political patron Megawati.

“Thanks to Jokowi, Megawati now has a party in power after years in opposition but they still don’t control the majority in parliament, so they can’t go about imposing their will on everyone,” said the party insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Megawati and Jokowi need each other, she understands that,” the party official added.

Additional reporting by the Jakarta bureau; Editing by Randy Fabi and Jeremy Laurence

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