On Monday this week, I went to a presentation by Michael Buehler  at the Center for Strategic &International Studies  in Washington, DC. The title of his talk, “Of Geckos and Crocodiles: Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Efforts ,” piqued my curiosity as I had blogged  about Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission earlier this year. Buehler began by giving a comprehensive overview of Indonesia’s corruption eradication measures since 1998 to date, outlining the passage of corruption-related laws and regulations, establishment of independent anti-corruption bodies, and development of anti-corruption programs. He then gave an analysis of the anti-corruption bodies, programs and their weaknesses, chronicled the work of the country’s anti-corruption commission (called the Corruption Eradication Commission, or “KPK” for short in Indonesian), and described the achievements and challenges facing anti-corruption efforts in Indonesia.
For me, the most striking point of the presentation was that people came to KPK’s defense when state authorities began to clamp down on it. The KPK, established in 2002, became so good at its job of fighting corruption (Corruption Crimes Court, which is attached to the KPK, has a 100% conviction rate) that it began to threaten state authorities, antagonizing the police and the Attorney Generals’ office in particular. Direct attacks to undermine the KPK ensued, leading to an arrest by the police in late October 2009 of two KPK deputy chairmen, Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto, on charges of abuse of power. During the two men’s court hearings in November, hours of wiretapped conversation , allegedly between members of the police and the attorney general’s office, were played. On the tape, the speakers were heard plotting to frame the KPK for bribery in an effort to undermine the Commission.
The tape recordings were widely picked up by the media, triggering a huge public outcry  in Indonesia. In a country where, according to Buehler, people do not have a tradition of public demonstrations to demand what they want, ordinary Indonesians took to the street for days to show their support for the KPK. Responding to the former chief detective Susno Duadji’s comment likening the KPK going against the police force as a “gecko fighting a crocodile,” people started a movement, “Saya Cicka,” Indonesian for “I am a Gecko,” demonstrating their solidarity with the anti-corruption commission. They also created banners reading “Say No to Buaya (crocodiles).”In addition to street protests, Indonesians also turned to social media. On Facebook, a university lecturer  created a group supporting the KPK and protesting the actions of the police. Named “Gerakan 1.000.000 Facebookers Dukung Chandra Hamzah & Bibit Samad Rianto ” (Movement of 1,000,000 Facebookers Supporting Chandra Hamzah & Bibit Samad Rianto), this cause quickly gained support; as of today, the group has more than 1.3 million members. The overwhelming display of public support for the KPK led to two concrete actions : the President set up a fact-finding team to probe the case, and high-level officials from the police force and Attorney Generals’ office resigned  amid the controversies over the wiretap.
This is a powerful story of what can happen when public mobilizes around a cause. My follow-up question is whether the KPK has a strong communication unit in place to work with the media proactively and to actively gain public support. Buehler does not think this was the case. If the journalists picked up the story out of their own accord and public support for the KPK materialized organically and naturally, then I wonder how much more support the KPK could have generated for itself and for the anti-corruption cause if it had a communication strategy in place. From the mass demonstrations, it is clear that ordinary Indonesians are fed up with corruption as the way of life  and are ready to fight it, alongside the KPK. People are identifying with the geckos to fight the crocodile, no matter how difficult a challenge it is to fight corruption that is so deeply embedded in Indonesian culture. To borrow one of Sina ’s favorite quotes by Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Photo credit: Flickr user ivanatm