Insight: The President’s politically incorrect gesture
Paper Edition | Page: 2
Former foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda recently launched a quarterly journal called Strategic Review. There was nothing wrong about either the launch or the journal, but I found it distasteful to see a notoriously famous guest attending the event, sitting as a “very important person” next to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The person I am referring to is Thaksin Shinawatra, once a strong man in Thailand, who served as prime minister, but was ousted as a corrupt politician. He is now a convict and living in exile.
President Yudhoyono from day one in office, and even during his campaign ahead of the 2004 presidential election, said he would concentrate on the fight against corruption because he considered corruption the number one enemy of the state. And he did a good job until he finished his first term in office. Never in our contemporary history have we seen so many members of the House of Representatives, governors, regents, mayors and other high-ranking officials arrested, brought to justice and serving prison terms of years for corruption.
The President at that time was clearly sending a signal to the people that he would keep going after those who committed graft, irrespective of who they were. It was because of his tough measures against corruption that his approval rating was constantly high. I myself was also pleased with the President’s achievement even though I did have some criticisms.
But, unlike in his first term, the President has stumbled here and there in the second term. He has made several vague statements even though he has consistently used anti-corruption rhetoric; the latest being his order for Cabinet ministers to crack down on graft in their respective offices. It seemed like he had something to worry about and only recently we understood that he was anxious because his Democratic Party had been implicated in a number of corruption cases. The impacts of the Hambalang sports center and SEA Games athletes’ village cases, for instance, have been so damaging not only to his party but also to himself as a staunch anti-corruption President.
It is not an understatement if I say he has been tainted in one way or another by all the corruption allegations involving his trusted people. To me, this may be the reason why he looks so indecisive and ambiguous when it comes to taking measures against party members implicated or convicted of graft. Following the imprisonment of former party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin for graft, one by one, party executives have been embroiled in corruption cases.
Yudhoyono’s approval rating has continued to fall although there are still many people who do believe that the President is a good person.
I myself am convinced that our President is a good person; a very kind one. And probably because he is a good person it was that, when attending the launch of Strategic Review, hosted by his former foreign minister, the President was sitting next to Thaksin, who himself is a convicted criminal due to corruption. Thaksin lives in exile because he does not want to go to prison which, therefore, is a show of no respect for the court’s verdict. It is, in fact, outright contempt of court.
My question is, why did President Yudhoyono not convey his objection at being seated next to a graft convict, who happens to be a former prime minister of Thailand? And, why were the organizers of the event so insensitive to the fact that Thaksin’s presence near Yudhoyono could cast serious doubts over the Indonesian President’s commitment to the fight against corruption?
If President Yudhoyono keeps his commitment to leading the national campaign against corruption, his willingness to sit next to Thaksin could be considered a betrayal of his promise. His action was politically and legally incorrect. It sends the wrong message to those who are striving to fight corruption.
The writer is a founder of Transparency International-Indonesia.
Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.