Jakarta WikiLeaks May Goad SBY Into True Action

By Novar Caine

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was at an international judicial conference in the soggy West Java town of Bogor this week where he was forced to defend himself against claims that he interfered in the judicial process and lacked integrity. He said the assertions amounted to an attack on his good character, that it was an “assassination” of sorts.

As the head of state and his sizeable entourage clogged up Bogor’s streets, leading to traffic mayhem, Yudhoyono ordered his ministers to keep quiet on the story reported in two Australian newspapers the Friday before, alleging he had abused his power in a variety of ways, including spying on political rivals, based on confidential cables from the US Embassy in Jakarta that were provided to them by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, whose boss, Julian Assange, an Australian, is under house arrest in England as he appeals an order to extradite him to Sweden over rape accusations. 

For a reformist president of a still-nascent democracy who is supposedly fighting to eradicate the country’s main problem of corruption that includes a “judicial mafia” of courtroom case-brokers who he wants wiped out, the revelations are supremely awkward.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald also reported that First Lady Kristiani Herawati used her privileged standing to financially profit, reportedly reducing her to tears when she learned of the accusations.

Pressed by reporters at the Bogor judges’ meeting, President Yudhoyono said he did not want to be “too reactive and emotional” over the reports, but said he would “get justice in a democratic manner,” whatever that means.

The embarrassing cables written by diplomats at the Jakarta embassy say, according to the Australian media reports, that twice-elected Yudhoyono “has personally intervened to influence prosecutors and judges to protect corrupt political figures and pressure his adversaries” and that he used “the Indonesian intelligence service to spy on political rivals and, at least once, a senior minister in his own government.”

Former vice president Yusuf Kalla and head of the Indonesian Red Cross is, meanwhile, said to have bought the leadership of the Golkar Party.

The president may have said he didn’t want to blow the story up, even though it had already been blown up, but elsewhere a group of people were aiming to do exactly that. A day after Yudhoyono’s comments, a collective of folk filed a defamation lawsuit against the Australian newspapers at the Central Jakarta District Court. It’s unclear who they are, or if elements are lurking behind them, other than they’re calling themselves the State-Owned Enterprise Labour Union, a moniker that may have forensic clues as to its origin therein. Not shy, the group is seeking compensation of US$1 billion for apparently causing ruination to the Indonesian people and their country.

And there were some people thinking that the problem eating away at the nation was corruption, not newspaper reports about alleged corruption. Transparency International, the German graft watchdog, perennially lists Indonesia among the world’s most corrupt countries.

What, we wonder, will the labour union do with a billion dollars if the court awards it? (Analysts say the application has little chance of success.) Its lawyer, Habiburokhman, speaking to the media after filing the suit, said the newspapers “cooked up their own story to make our president look bad.” 

Equally dubious was the convergence of protesters, numbering a couple of dozen, at the US Embassy the same day, demanding an apology from Washington over the WikiLeaks cables, as if the US government – itself furious at the unfolding leaks from its missions worldwide – has control over the site’s controversial activities, much as it would like to (but may, if it turns out that Assange is shipped off to the Swedes and they hand him over to the US). The Indonesian government had earlier lodged a protest of its own to Washington.

One of the demonstrators – again a lone voice speaking for the entire nation of 230 million people (did they take a poll?) – said the cables had “hurt the feelings of Indonesians.”

These are sideshows. What really hurts the Indonesian people is the failure of successive administrations since the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998 to stop the rot of corruption that some say is even more rampant now than then, when it was allegedly controlled by a small clique of those in power.

The last year has seen a waning in President Yudhoyono’s war against graft, and his popularity is falling as a result (though still admirably stratospheric at 63 percent as of January, but down from 85 percent in late 2009). More than anything, the Indonesian people want an end to the era of official theft and the birth of a clean nation that can really progress. If any good comes out of these latest WikiLeaks revelations, it may be that it will spur the government in Jakarta to actual action, not just another round of self-serving platitudes.

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