Akbar Tanjung may be free, but a Supreme Court judge says he took part in a corrupt practice, writes Matthew Moore.
Something unusual happened in Jakarta’s Supreme Court on Thursday, and it wasn’t the decision to overturn parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tanjung’s conviction for embezzling money meant for the poor.
Everyone was expecting Indonesia’s justice system would do that and maintain its perfect record of never jailing any big name politician.
To soften up the public in advance, the details of the decision had been carefully leaked along with the curious legal reasoning – Mr Akbar could not be convicted because he was just following orders from then Indonesian president B. J. Habibie who told him to take 40 billion rupiah ($A6 million) of Government money.
What was unprecedented was that after the eight-hour decision was read, while Mr Akbar was still busy throwing himself on the floor in gratitude to God, one of the five judges read a dissenting decision.
It was the first dissenting decision in the Supreme Court’s history. And Judge Abdurrahman Saleh delivered it with a punch.
He said Mr Akbar had engaged in “corrupt practice” was guilty of “shameful conduct because he failed to show minimal appropriate efforts to protect state money… which the president had entrusted to him”.
He listed a whole series of Mr Akbar’s failings, which he said proved the findings of two lower courts were right.
And in doing so, he echoed the feelings and frustrations of the millions of Indonesia’s poor and middle class who every day see proof of corruption of their leaders in the media and yet never see punishment meted out.
“In Indonesia, there is no justice for the rich, only the poor,” was how my cab driver put it as he drove me home after the judgement. There, I was met by two normally meek housemaids who echoed his views.
Anti-corruption campaigners and prominent lawyers deplored the decision. Ombudsman Commission chairman Antonius Sujata branded it “a miscarriage of justice”. “With this decision the public will have no more confidence in the judicial system and the Government’s efforts to stop corruption,” he said.
Prominent corporate lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis described the finding as “a sad day for this country”.
Mr Akbar’s success in finally clearing his name in the courts opens the way for him to be nominated as the presidential candidate for the Golkar Party of former president Soeharto.
The decision shows the clout the chairman of Golkar has. So too does the fact that none of his Golkar rivals for the presidency sought to orchestrate any serious violence outside the court on Thursday to show that Mr Akbar was an electoral liability and improve their own chances. Indeed his major rival, former defence chief General Wiranto, dropped into Mr Akbar’s house to congratulate him on the verdict.
Mr Akbar’s backers are insisting that now the court has acquitted him, his reputation in the eyes of the public will be gradually restored and that he can run for president.
But the presidential election this year is different. It is a direct election where people vote for a person not for a party.
And whatever the legal niceties, many Indonesians believe Mr Akbar is corrupt and should be in jail.
Whether Mr Akbar can ever get the country’s maids and taxi drivers and middle classes to vote for him is something the Golkar hardheads will have to consider