Analysis: A Small Step for Andi, a Giant Leap for Politics?

Former Sports and Youth Minister Andi Mallarangeng (center) speaks during a press conference announcing his resignation amid corruption charges on Dec. 7. He is the first active minister to resign on graft allegations since the country's antigraft body the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established in 2003. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

Former Sports and Youth Minister Andi Mallarangeng (center) speaks during a press conference announcing his resignation amid corruption charges on Dec. 7. He is the first active minister to resign on graft allegations since the country’s antigraft body the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) was established in 2003. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

Where did Andi Mallarangeng find the courage to remain so calm and confident of his proclaimed innocence, even while facing intense public pressure and the Corruption Eradication Commission’s accusation of his involvement in the Hambalang sport center graft case?

Look at what really happened on the morning of Friday, Dec. 7, when Andi tendered his resignation following an announcement by the antigraft body known as the KPK that he was a suspect in the project that reportedly caused at least Rp 243.6 billion ($25.3 million) in losses to state treasury.

A little past 8 a.m. on Friday, Andi walked confidently into President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s office. Upon seeing him, the president hurriedly walked over, affectionately touched the minister’s cheek and, according to inside sources, sighed, “aduh” (“oh dear”). A warm conversation followed.

Meanwhile, Vice President Boediono was reportedly in a panic. So much so, that instead of going into the room to meet Andi, he reportedly rushed in the wrong direction to another room.

Yudhoyono, Boediono, State Secretary Sudi Silalahi and Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam were all amazed at Andi’s display of calmness and political maturity.

Andi, a PhD graduate in political science from Northern Illinois University in the United States was, in a sense, actually giving them a brief lesson on integrity and knightly attitude. He is the first serving minister in Indonesia’s history to have quit his job in order to salvage the government’s reputation.

Brimming with confidence, the minister told the elite gathering that he had three reasons to quit the cabinet. First, to free the government from being taken hostage by public perceptions about corruption allegations. If Andi had not quit, Yudhoyono’s cabinet as a whole would have continued to be perceived as harboring vested interests at the expense of legal authority.

That would have aggravated the KPK’s false perception that Boediono, allegedly implicated in the Bank Century bailout, was “an extraordinary citizen untouchable by law.”

Second, Andi quit the position of secretary of the advisory council of the Democratic Party to protect the ruling party’s image, which has been severely damaged ahead of legislative and presidential elections in 2014.

This way, he can ease the pressure and burden on the ruling party and give it ample time to rehabilitate its reputation in 2013, so that Andi himself would not be the reason for any decline in the party’s waning acceptability levels.

Some have alleged that the money that was taken illegally out of the Hambalang project was channeled into the ruling party’s congress, which elected Anas Urbaningrum as its chairman.

Anas defeated Andi in the selection process, but the chairman has smartly escaped legal traps, apparently due to his power and influence. Anas has said that if he is proven to have stolen even a single rupiah from the Hambalang project, he would ask others to “hang me up on the National Monument [Monas].”

The ruling party’s former treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin has repeatedly mentioned Anas’s involvement in this suspected graft case, but the target is still untouchable even though the KPK has interrogated dozens of people and some have clearly revealed his involvement.

Andi’s daring move represents an action of hitting the ball into Anas’s court. Will the KPK ever have the courage to go after Anas, now that Andi has brazenly quit and is prepared to face trial? Analysts say his confidence of innocence indicates that he will leave no stone unturned, if need be, in court.

The third reason Andi must quit the job is to smoothen the legal proceedings, because as an active minister he cannot be tried without direct approval from the president, whose prerogative to appoint ministers is guaranteed by the Constitution.

So why did Yudhoyono speak with a sad tone when announcing Andi’s resignation? The president in fact expressed high appreciation for Andi’s good work, as proven in Indonesia’s recapturing of the “overall winner” title at the Southeast Asian Games. Yudhoyono appeared sad that Andi had to go. And this was what Andi did: Gallantly, he said he had better quit because that would serve best the government’s image.

That immediately makes Andi a great hero on Indonesia’s political stage, despite the graft accusations his team of lawyers will still have to fight back. This is also the reason why Rizal and Zulkarnaen Mallarangeng announced in separate occasions to the mass media that their elder brother was “like the anchor or role model of integrity” in their extended family.

Andi said the proceedings at the KPK would not be sufficient to establish the truth and prove his claimed innocence. He wants to take the case further to the district court and go as far as possible to reinstate his good image. Andi will surely fight back, and his lawyers will do their best to vindicate his claim of innocence.

What if, at the end of the day, the entire judiciary establishment fails to dump Andi in jail? There is only one answer — he would be a hero and would “sell” himself pretty well ahead of the 2014 elections.

For the sake of straightening out the state structure, the motivation for indicting Andi should be to find truth and justice about Hambalang project, but not to blindly hand down a verdict outside of that context.

We need to wipe out corruption once and for all from Indonesia, and that is non-negotiable. But we need also to rehabilitate people’s reputations whenever they are proven innocent in court. Trial by the mass media and trial by public must not be mistaken for the right way to promote justice.

Let the wrong face the music, but let also the right enjoy their right to be right. Andi has set the good precedent that a serving high-ranking official must quit as a form of moral responsibility to the public if implicated in legal cases. Where are the others?

In Indonesia’s culture, admitting mistakes is seen as a display of weakness, rather than honesty and courage. This is why officials prefer to appear always superficially innocent and pretentiously sinless. It is also why narcissistic image-building — known in Indonesian as pencitraan — is the average public figure’s hobby of choice.

Andi has broken this tradition. The political lesson Andi has hammered home is a message of sincerity and courage that the nation needs to learn.

Not surprisingly, people’s sympathy has begun to build for Andi’s acceptance of moral responsibility and the exemplary maneuvers he has made to stun even the president and vice president.

If the government bureaucracy, legislature and judiciary establishments are to be cleaned in our dream to create an exemplary and reputable government, the Andi phenomenon should be taken as reason for introspection.

The Mallarangeng brothers — Andi, Rizal, and Zulkarnaen — have remained unshaken in fighting for their cause, believing that truth will eventually reveal itself. But if one should go to jail, let it be for nothing but justice. This is why they have called on the KPK to “work professionally in upholding justice.”

It is more honorable to admit mistakes and take all the risks than to appear like newly descended angels from heaven, but with lots of skeletons in the cupboard.

Pitan Daslani is a senior political correspondent for BeritaSatu Media Holdings of which the Jakarta Globe is a subsidiary. He can be reached at pitandaslani@gmail.com