Susilo has decisive advantages in combating corruption

The Jakarta Post
11 October 2004
Wimar Witoelar, Jakarta

It is actually easy for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to take the initiative in changing the course of the nation away from corruption and state violence, the twin evils that have beset the nation for as long as we can remember. They say that the fight against corruption needs one ingredient to make it successful, and that is political will. We hope Susilo has the political will, but we know he has immense political power.

Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid tried to fight corruption and used up two excellent attorneys general, Baharuddin Lopa and Marsillam Simandjuntak, before his presidency failed because of a lack of political power. He lacked support from the legislature, the armed forces and the media. The picture for Susilo is reversed. The legislature is not prejudiced against him, the armed forces look to Susilo as their savior and the media love him to a fault.

Susilo starts with the highest amount of moral capital in the history of Indonesian presidents. Unlike Sukarno's rise to power, the election of Susilo was explicit, nationwide and legitimized by more than 110 million voters. Unlike Soeharto, Susilo did not rise opportunistically to fill a vacuum. Unlike Habibie, Susilo did not inherit the presidency by default. Unlike Abdurrahman Wahid, the political parties were bypassed in the nation's first direct presidential election that elevated Susilo. Unlike Megawati, he did not capitalize on the betrayal of his predecessor. Susilo's victory is clean and complete. He is beholden to no one. Will he realize his independence and take charge?

He has been skeptically described as a remnant of the New Order, as indecisive, as unable to shed his military background. Well, this is the time to prove his critics wrong, as this commentator has been proven wrong in doubting his strength in the polls. At no time in Indonesian political history has a leader emerged with such an absolute mandate from the majority. And at no time in Susilo's life has he been so popular.

The question is this: Will he use this popularity as a launchpad to make a better nation for us all? Will he carve a golden place in history for himself? Will he be able to transform himself from a New Order bright light into a leader totally committed to changing the nation?
The answers to these questions will be given to the world in a few days. When his Cabinet appointments are announced, the people will know. Will Susilo emerge as a real political leader, or will he still play defensive tactics in a game where he has eliminated all opposition?

The political baggage that hampered his predecessors is no longer a problem. Susilo is traveling light, with no political debts. He owes nothing to major political parties. He does not need to look over his shoulder because his mandate comes directly from the people. He need not fear the legislature because it is the people he has to respect, not the people's representatives.
He need not be beholden to campaign contributors because he needs no political money to run his government when he can reclaim the state's money that used to be siphoned off by corruption. He need not be afraid of the Army if he improves their lot by remolding the organization into the popular military of Indonesia's younger years.

Susilo can write his own book. It would be a shame if he were to copy from his New Order notes. All the people will be watching his Cabinet appointments. He does not need to juggle among political candidates as long as he keeps the people behind him by choosing ministers of integrity.
We are so used to horse-trading in Cabinet appointments that many people (probably even Susilo himself) take it for granted that compromise is an essential part of the process. Not so this time. The unique moral capital bestowed upon the new president by his landslide election victory makes it possible for Susilo to call his own shots. If he were to seek advice, it should be from well-intentioned individuals rather than from political brokers and pressure groups driven by self-interest.

Here then is the test. Does Susilo know enough well-intentioned people? The danger signs show him surrounded by a number of unsavory types and opportunists. Maybe those are his old friends. But can he reach beyond them and find the true reformers who have driven the soul of the nation since 1997? Even more basic, is it easy for him to tell right from wrong?

As an example, the appointment of Marsillam Simandjuntak as attorney general would make things very simple. As a former attorney general who was ready to go when the administration he was serving collapsed, he could just reopen his files and start the waves of prosecution he was about to start under Abdurrahman Wahid. Nobody would oppose the choice of Marsillam except for people with political interests and, of course, the corruptors themselves. Some of them have made barricades for themselves by getting elected to office. Should there be any opposition, Marsillam would easily quell the dissent by bringing leading corruptors to trial.

What about dealing with state violence? Some say Susilo could lack the courage to confront the perpetrators of human rights abuses as they were once his superiors. No longer the case. He is now beyond dispute the boss. This was made very clear because some of the worst perpetrators were actually presidential contenders and were publicly defeated. He does not have to fear Soeharto, Wiranto, or anyone else because now he is the president and commander of the armed forces. Any human rights abuses from now on will be the responsibility of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

If the competition for power was a Formula One race, Susilo has left his rivals behind by several laps. The erstwhile rivals are old friends from previous races, but now they are standing between Susilo and his destiny. The only thing for him to do is keep up the momentum and leave them further behind to win the race. We hope he does not pause, look back and wait for his old friends to catch up.

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