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Street parliament

The drawn-out battle between the KPK antigraft body and the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has provoked an unprecedented public outcry not seen since the 1998 political upheaval that brought Soeharto down.
Never before has an outpouring of sympathy snowballed in such a way toward a single agency. The public perceives the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to be a political victim, following a series of attacks on it by the two powerful law enforcement agencies. They believe these agencies would like to eliminate the KPK precisely because of its impressive achievement in stemming corruption.
Two of the KPK deputy leaders, who were charged with abuse of power, bribery and extortion, were suspended and later detained by the police without adequate evidence. Strong public pressure forced the police to release them, although the police denied the release had any link to the public outcry.
The two suspended deputies still have to regularly report to the police.
This week’s legal tussle, widely covered by the media, has increasingly shown that the police have conspired with the AGO to undermine the KPK.
For weeks, people have held public rallies in big cities, performed musical and theatrical plays and gathered forces in the virtual world. More than a million Facebookers have thrown their support behind the KPK.
Two things set this support apart from past rallies. Unlike the reform movement around 1998 that brought autocrat Soeharto down, this public pressure has not been spearheaded by university students. The students still take part in the rallies but an increasing number of members of the middle class have joined them.
This encouraging development is reminiscent of political rallies before and after the 1998 political earthquake and of rallies in our neighboring countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines, where professionals and white-collar workers hit the streets to fight for what they believe in. The idea of people power, though remote, is floating.
With more than one million supporters, Facebook users are still only a fraction of some 30 million Internet users in the country. But they will surely become a powerful pressure group in the near future. Already Indonesia is the largest user of Facebook in the world.
The birth of a balancing power outside the House is a silver lining from the KPK saga – particularly so as the new members of the House have shown a less than sensitive attitude toward the public sense of justice.
The public believe that part of the country’s political and business elite were mad because the antigraft agency had disturbed them. Yet members of the House tended to take sides with the National Police and the AGO in their hearings with the two law enforcement institutions this week.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s overwhelming victory in July’s presidential election had fuelled fear that he would be able to sway the House of Representatives.
Yudhoyono has the backing of nearly 70 percent of the 560 members of the House. That fear is slowly evaporating.

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