President Joko Widodo continues to surprise with his appointment of officials for top posts, this time drawing the ire of antigraft activists and academics over his pick of a politician from his ruling coalition as the country’s next attorney general.
Joko inaugurated H.M. Prasetyo, a member of the National Democrat Party (NasDem) and former assistant attorney general, to the post of Indonesia’s top prosecutor at a ceremony at the State Palace on Thursday, just hours after signing the letter of appointment, according to Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto.
Andi also confirmed that the decision came after intense talks between the president and NasDem chairman and media tycoon .
The president “asked [Surya] for a guarantee that [Prasetyo] would resign from NasDem” if appointed attorney general, Andi said, “so that once [Prasetyo] becomes the attorney general, he will be truly independent.”
He added that if Prasetyo was found not to be independent in his new role, Joko would find a new attorney general.
From House to AGO
Prasetyo made his career in the Attorney General’s Office, working his way up to become the assistant attorney general for special crimes from 2005 to 2006, before quitting to establish his own law firm.
He later joined NasDem, on whose ticket he won a seat at the House of Representatives in the election in April.
By law, he will have to resign from the House, but not from his party post. However, Joko has made it a condition for any politician joining his cabinet to resign any posts that they hold in their respective party.
Andi said that Surya had agreed to Joko’s terms.
For his part, Prasetyo told reporters at the palace before his inauguration that he would “guarantee my integrity and independence.”
The inauguration was scheduled for 2 p.m. but was postponed by more than 90 minutes for the House to process Prasetyo’s resignation as a legislator.
“I’ve just received Prasetyo’s resignation letter,” House Speaker Setya Novanto told Detik.com just hours before the inauguration.
“This is the president’s prerogative. We support and value all of his decisions.”
It is not clear when the House will finalize Prasetyo’s resignation. He has already left NasDem, though.
“I received my discharged [from the party] at 11 a.m. [on Thursday],” Prasetyo said. “I’m just a pawn. I was appointed. So I will carry out this duty to the best of my ability.”
He added that the president has sought input from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) in vetting candidates for the post — the same as when he was picking his cabinet ministers.
However, KPK chairman Abraham Samad slammed the appointment as “highly inappropriate,” saying that “those with political affiliations tend to be subject to conflicts of interest.”
“The Attorney General’s Office is a law enforcement agency that really needs a figure with independence and integrity,” he said.
Others were also quick to slam the new appointment.
Indonesia Corruption Watch said the decision showed Joko’s “weak commitment” toward combating corruption and revamping the graft-ridden AGO.
“Jokowi had so many candidates to choose from, all of whom were better qualified [than Prasetyo] to be attorney general,” ICW deputy chairman Emerson Yuntho said on Thursday, referring to the president by his nickname.
“Why must he pick someone from his coalition and not someone who has a better track record and vision [for reforming the AGO]?”
The ICW previously recommended two antigraft fighters rumored to be among those in the running to be the attorney general: Muhammad Yusuf, the current chief of the PPATK, and Yunus Hussein, his predecessor and one-time favorite for a KPK leadership post.
Before heading the PPATK for two consecutive terms from 2002 to 2011, Yunus served as Bank Indonesia’s top banking fraud investigator for 30 years. During his time in the PPATK, he managed to track down numerous cases of money-laundering, aiding the KPK’s anti-corruption investigations.
Yunus is now back at the central bank and also lectures at several universities.
Analysts said Yusuf would have made the better choice, given that he previously served as chief prosecutor in several regions and would have a better understanding of the challenges facing the AGO.
Andi Hamzah, a law expert and former adviser to Baharuddin Lopa, a former attorney general, said Prasetyo’s track record at the AGO was “nothing special.”
“I don’t know why Jokowi picked [Prasetyo] but I suspect it is more to do with political considerations and not [Prasetyo’s] technical abilities,” he said.
University of Indonesia sociologist Thamrin Tomagola also said that Joko should have made a better choice.
“Indonesia is seen as a strategic partner by two giant economic forces: China and the United States. This makes the attorney general’s role very important to ensure certainty of the law so that investors can continue to invest in Indonesia,” he said.
The Setara Institute, a human rights advocacy group, said Prasetyo’s appointment showed that Joko was “full of compromises” when it came to respect for the rule of law.
“This is a sign that [Joko’s] goal of advancing corruption eradication efforts and ending impunity for cases of gross human rights violation will go nowhere,” said Setara chairman Hendardi.
He cited the earlier appointment as justice minister of Yasonna Laoly, a politician from Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), as yet another poor example that ensured that law enforcement in Indonesia “will never be independent and neutral.”
Former prosecutor turned academic Chaerul Imam earlier urged Joko not to appoint a politician as attorney general.
Chaerul said the AGO “once had an attorney general who hailed from a political party. In the end all cases involving his political party were stopped.”
He refused to mention any names, but was clearly referring to Marzuki Darusman, the only attorney general with a political party background. Marzuki, a senior Golkar Party politician, served as attorney general from 1999 to 2001.
Rights activists had called on Joko to appoint an attorney general with the courage to start addressing the litany of rights abuse cases that the AGO has for years refused to touch.
This includes the 1965-66 purge of suspected communist sympathizers by the military, in which up to 500,000 people may have been killed, and for which the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has demanded an inquiry leading to trial.
The AGO under the previous attorney general, Basrief Arief, also a career prosecutor, repeatedly refused to take on the case.
The new attorney general is not without his supporters, though.
Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, the chief security minister and a fellow NasDem loyalist, defended Prasetyo’s appointment.
“He’s loyal, hard-working and is both capable and credible,” the former Navy admiral said. “There were many [candidates]. But [Joko] chose someone he can trust, someone who he feels comfortable with.”
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