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Jakarta Post

KPK vs Polri: Children of light and children of darkness

  • Jim Clough

    The Jakarta Post

Melbourne   /   Wed, February 18, 2015   /  07:24 am

President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s decision to name Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as the sole candidate for Indonesia'€™s top cop spot drew much public criticism following the Corruption Eradication Commission'€™s (KPK) eleventh hour decision to name the three-star general a graft suspect.

The President'€™s decision is largely seen as a concession to his political patron, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairperson Megawati Soekarnoputri, who Budi served as a security aide during her tenure as president.

Tensions escalated with startling swiftness when the police, in what appeared to be a blatant act of retaliation, arrested KPK deputy Bambang Widjojanto for perjury in a local election dispute back in 2010.

Reports have also been submitted against other KPK deputies; and on Monday a court ruled that the KPK'€™s decision to name Budi a graft suspect was invalid.

The feud between the well-respected KPK and the notoriously corrupt National Police (Polri) highlights the perils of democratic society, especially in a developing country such as Indonesia.

In his critique of democratic society the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr claims that the world is inhabited by two sets of people, '€œthe children of light and the children of darkness'€. The children of darkness are those '€œ['€¦] who know no law beyond their will and interest'€, whereas the children of light are '€œ['€¦] those who seek to bring self-interest under
the discipline of a more universal law and in harmony with a more universal good'€.

By Niebuhr'€™s definition weren'€™t both the National Police and the KPK created by the children of light? The KPK is tasked with eradicating corruption and bringing justice to those that seek to better their own interests at the expense of society, whereas the Police are charged with maintaining law and order, along with serving and protecting the citizens.

Why then are they at each other'€™s throats?

In our most optimistic moments we might like to think of the Police as children of light, shaping our society for the better, but they are however regarded as a corrupting influence on Indonesia'€™s democracy, popularly considered one of the most corrupt institutions in Indonesia, second only to the House of Representatives.

The Police, once under the arm of the military during the autocratic reign of Soeharto, became an independent institution following his downfall.

The Police'€™s track record has been questionable and mixed at best.

Niebuhr argues that democratic civilization was built not by children of darkness but by foolish and naïve children of light, who failed to consider the true power of self-interest, be it within individuals or collectively as a society.

Furthermore, he states that the children of darkness are wiser than their altruistic counterparts because they understand the power of self-interest.

The formation of the National Police or even Indonesia'€™s democracy in the Reform Era are striking examples of how the children of light naively attempted to build a democratic and civil society under a fair and just creed, expecting the country and its people to abide by it.

Alas, the '€œwiser'€ children of darkness have been able to make covert use of the democratic and civil creed to twist it to their own devices and special interests.

Even before Monday'€™s verdict Comr. Gen. Budi, despite being a man of the law, had failed to report to the KPK'€™s summons for questioning.

The KPK itself one of the few bastions of relative good specifically tasked to fight against self-interest, i.e. corruption, faces a bleak future; President Jokowi, heralded as a man of the people who promised to champion their right to and aspirations for a better country, has been hesitant to take significant action for fear of political backlash by his own party.

Niebuhr states that to preserve democratic civilization, the children of light must arm themselves with the wisdom of the children of darkness but refrain from its malevolence.

They must understand the power of self-interest within human society, but not give it moral justification. '€œThey must have this wisdom in order that they may beguile, deflect, harness and restrain self-interest ['€¦] for the sake of the community'€.

Whether Jokowi attempts to garner closer ties with his former presidential election rival Prabowo Subianto and the Red-and-White Coalition (KMP) or with the Indonesian Military (TNI), so-called rivals to the police, to balance the playing field and give him more maneuverability remains to be seen.

But wisdom, restraint from self-interest and the courage to act will be the prerequisites if President Jokowi wishes to be seen as a child of light, and a capable one at that.

Jokowi has been hesitant to take significant action for fear of political backlash by his own party.


The writer is studying international relations at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

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