In Indonesia, glory can replace acrimony in just a few short months if people can maximize their authority for a good cause.
Few would dispute this now that Antasari Azhar has become a household name — and for some, a hero — with invitations ranging from speaking at formal forums to meeting with kindergarten children.
Antasari was born in Pangkal Pinang on Bangka Island, Riau, in 1953. He got his undergraduate degree from Sriwijaya University in Palembang in 1981 and began his career as a prosecutor
in 1985.
He stole the media headlines recently by singing Juwita Malam with rock band Slank at the band’s home base of Potlot, South Jakarta.
Indonesia’s Rolling Stone magazine equates him with Elliot Ness, a character in
The Untouchables who fights corruption within a corrupt environment.
“Antasari is living proof that we still have hope for the betterment of the country.”
When welcoming Antasari in a recent event at his office, Jimly Asshiddiqie, then chairman of the Constitutional Court — another powerful institution born out of the 1998 reform movement — said in front of the media, “We are glad that the most popular man in the country is present with us today.”
For journalists who know Jimly, and have heard rumors that he is aiming for the vice presidential post, such public praise was quite surprising.
All of this, however, seems absurd when we look back to earlier in the year, when most people would have recommended we forget about the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) completely, and some advised us to simply accept the country’s corruption as a fact of life.
Many even questioned, “Antasari, who?”
But one month after Antasari Azhar was elected as KPK chairman in December 2007, accompanied by four other unknown personalities who were appointed as commissioners, the media criticized the anti-graft body and dismissed it as a mere joke.
Anti-graft activists all over Indonesia slammed members of the House of Representatives, especially those from major parties, who the activists said had conspired to pave the way for Antasari to lead the most powerful law enforcement body.
The media and activists joined forces to undermine the credibility of the commissioners, especially in underlining Antasari’s questionable track record.
They pointed to allegations of how Antasari, for instance, had failed to execute 32 West Sumatra councilors who were found guilty by the Supreme Court when he was the province’s chief prosecutor.
The most memorable incident that put Antasari under the national spotlight was when he was head of the South Jakarta prosecutor’s office and was blamed for granting former President Soeharto’s son Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra his freedom.
Most media speculated at the time that he had received a bribe, but there was no proof and Antasari firmly denied it.
“The elected KPK chairman can’t make the country’s corruption eradication efforts better within the next four years,” politician Gayus Lumbuun of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said, sealing Antasari’s fate just after he was appointed KPK chairman.
In terms of capabilities, one of his colleagues at the Attorney General’s Office also commented, “Of course, pak Antasari is a good prosecutor ... but he’s not the brightest among us.”
Two months after being elected, Antasari had still not made a statement to address these criticisms.
“But during those months, we regrouped and consolidated what we had, and worked hard to investigate cases. We intended to prove them wrong,” Antasari said during his visit to The Jakarta Post last week.
By the end of January, the KPK had sent shockwaves around the country when
it arrested then Bank Indonesia governor Burhanuddin Abdullah, the first high-ranking official to be detained.
The KPK moved quickly with the case, implicating former BI officials and two former lawmakers.
Golkar lawmaker Hamka Yandhu, one of lawmakers detained, confessed during his trial that 52 other lawmakers, including National Planning Minister Paskah Suzetta and Forestry Minister MS Kaban, had received BI funds.
Then, early in March, for the first time in the country’s history, the KPK caught Urip Tri Gunawan, a prosecutor heading investigations into tycoon Sjamsul Nursalim, red-handed receiving a bribe from Artalyta Suryani, a businesswoman and Sjamsul’s close aide.
In April, the KPK arrested active lawmaker Al Amin
Nur Nasution, followed by five other lawmakers in different cases.
The media, thirsty to see such bold moves from law enforcers against corrupt officials and lawmakers, celebrated with support from every angle.
With this support, Antasari was able to break his silence and talk openly with
the press, who were now on his side.
It seems the media have forgotten other officials and are concentrating on Antasari — it’s almost like everything the KPK has achieved is a credit to him, but Antasari, while enjoying life in the spotlight, has tried to keep a low profile.
“I’m the KPK chief, not a movie star,” he said.
The father of two girls, still working towards his doctorate, played down his role, saying all the KPK had done was great team work.
He charmed listeners during his speech in front of the Post’s employees with his originality and patience in explaining the details of
KPK cases.
“For me, the KPK chairmanship is the top of my career. I will concentrate
on this job. It bothers me when people start linking
me with other jobs,” he said, dismissing speculation that he would run for vice president alongside Megawati Soekarnoputri.

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