JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday buckled to pressure and dropped his candidate for police chief after weeks of public outcry over the nominee’s implication in a bribery scandal.
Widodo’s indecisiveness after the nominee, Budi Gunawan, was named a corruption suspect, had led many supporters to question the new president’s anti-graft credentials and his readiness to take on powerful vested interests in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and one of its most corrupt countries.
“Today, we put forward a new candidate to parliament for approval,” Widodo told reporters at the presidential palace, adding that his new candidate was interim police chief Badrodin Haiti.
Last month, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Gunawan a suspect in a bribery case, forcing the president to delay his appointment. In apparent retaliation, the police have since declared the KPK’s chief, Abraham Samad, and his deputy, Bambang Widjojanto, as suspects in different criminal cases, and have threatened to investigate other top agency officials.
Members of Widodo’s coalition initially pushed for Gunawan, who is close to former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, Widodo’s chief patron and head of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P).
Many viewed Widodo’s decision to nominate Gunawan in the first place as a tactic to appease the likes of Megawati.
“Jokowi’s hesitation in appointing Gunawan has deepened rifts between him and a faction of his PDI-P,” political analyst Michael Buehler said in a note.
“Should he retain PDI-P support, his government would face growing pressure to appoint more Megawati loyalists to key posts within the government and bureaucracy.”
The president on Wednesday also announced the suspension of Samad and Widjojanto, saying they would be replaced so that “the work of the KPK can continue”.
The agency, backed by an army of supporters, has warned that the police actions will “paralyze” it. It has a strong record of convictions, having caught police generals, cabinet-level ministers and lawmakers.
Widodo, the popular former governor of the capital, Jakarta, narrowly won a July election with a promise to voters to bringing clean, effective government.
But a survey published by a local pollster this month showed just 45 percent of Indonesians were satisfied with his performance, down sharply from 72 percent in August.
Additional reporting by the Jakarta bureau and Dennys Kapa; Editing by Randy Fabi and Nick Macfie