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Jakarta Post

New chief, old style?

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, November 2, 2019   /   07:33 am
New chief, old style? President Joko Widodo inaugurates Gen. Idham Azis as Indonesia Police Chief at the State Palace, Jakarta, November 2, 2019. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

A change of guard just happened at the National Police when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo installed Gen. Idham Azis as the new chief of the force on Friday, replacing Gen. Tito Karnavian, who was appointed home minister. Many are curious if Idham’s rise will bring changes to the police corps and in what way, given that he can only serve for one year and two months.

Skeptics further question if Idham can really change the game in such a short term, unless President Jokowi decides to delay the police chief’s mandatory retirement, which would be unprecedented.

Looking at their career trajectories, Idham and his predecessor Tito are two sides of the same coin. They share much in common, especially in the field of counterterrorism. The two worked hand in hand in the operations of the Densus 88 counterterrorism squad, including one that led to the demise of the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, Azhari bin Husin, in 2005. Following this successful operation, then police chief Gen. Sutanto awarded Tito, Idham and other squad members with promotions.

Nobody should doubt Idham’s credentials in the fight against terrorism. The Central Sulawesi Police that he led arrested members of a terrorist network under Santoso in 2014. Santoso was eventually killed in a joint police and military crackdown on the group two years later.

Experience has shaped Idham’s skills, making him probably one of the best terrorist hunters Indonesia has ever had. His catapulting to the top police job comes as the country remains vulnerable to terrorist threats, including from returning followers of the Islamic State (IS) movement and its affiliated groups who continue to spread their radical teachings and to find new recruits. The stabbing of then-coordinating security minister Wiranto in Banten last month sent a message that terrorist groups are still alive and are waiting for the right moment to strike.

Read also: New police chief faces growing terrorism networks, pressure to solve Novel acid attack

The choice of Idham must reflect President Jokowi’s intention to protect the nation from terrorism threats. The appointment of Idham also appears to respond to the creeping radicalism and intolerance that stems in part from weak enforcement of the law.

In this context, Jokowi’s trust in Idham as chief cop is unsurprising. The President previously picked strong
leaders like Tito and former Army general Fachrul Razi to be, respectively, the home minister and religious affairs minister, reportedly with the aim of countering radicalism that has allegedly infected civil servants, students and ulema.

Such a security-heavy approach is risky. Many have expressed suspicion that the antiradicalism drive would only justify measures to silence critics and opposition. The fight against the radicalism narrative, for example, played out in the selection of new leaders for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and later in revisions of the KPK Law.

While intolerance and terrorism are definitely menacing, it remains to be seen how Idham will act against radicalism. Basic freedoms will be at stake if the police resort to the use of force as they have been accused of doing in a number of recent mass protests.

Anyway, good luck Gen. Idham.