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Corruption in top circles, virus not enough to shake Joko's popularity

Sydney Morning Herald - December 7, 2020

James Massola – The arrival of 1.2 million Sinovac vaccines in Jakarta is, for President Joko Widodo, desperately welcome news given his country has been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other in south-east Asia.

Another 1.8 million doses are due to arrive from China in January, while 45 million doses that need to be processed by state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma, will also arrive over the next two months.

With nearly 600,000 positive cases in 2020, including 83,000 active cases on Sunday and a daily death toll consistently in three digits, the arrival of the vaccine can't come a moment too soon.

Joko and his administration have stumbled through the pandemic from the get-go, torn between by the competing demands of a lockdown and allowing the least-well off to work, lest they starve.

And in the last fortnight, the President has suffered the double blow of two members of his ministry being apprehended because of allegations of corruption.

At the weekend, Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara was named a suspect in a corruption case brought by the widely-respected Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK).

The minister and his offsiders have been accused of accepting nearly $2 million in bribes from suppliers distributing COVID-19 aid – skimming a $1 payment for every $30 food package distributed to the needy.

Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo, no relation to Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto,was arrested by the KPK a little less than two weeks ago after an uber expensive shopping trip in Hawaii.

Edhy, who had overturned a ban on the export of lobster larvae, has been accused of receiving bribes totalling nearly $500,000.

In comments before he got to trumpet the arrival of the first vaccine doses Joko said his government would respect the KPK's legal processes and vowed not to "protect anyone who is involved in corruption".

It's the sort of promise that – 22 years after the country rid itself of the dictator Suharto – one might have hoped the President would no longer have to make.

In a November 29-December 3 poll of 2000 respondents by Lembaga Survey, 26 per cent of people said corruption was getting worse, while 37 per cent said nothing had changed and 28 per cent said the government was doing a good job of preventing corruption. Eight per cent didn't know.

Of more concern, the number of people who felt the government was "very serious" about combating corruption was down 10 per cent on 2019, to 59 per cent of respondents.

One might think that, 20 months into his second and final term as President, Joko was in danger of being consigned to the scrap heap of history like his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as a do-nothing president in his second term.

But the Office of the President remained marginally ahead of the KPK (86 per cent to 83 per cent) as the most-trusted government entity, according to the survey.

The pollsters found that, despite an economic crisis, inconsistent enforcement of restrictions and abysmally low testing rates per-head of population, most people blamed the pandemic, not the government's poor performance for the recession.

As recently as June, Joko blasted his own cabinet for lacking a sense of urgency in responding to the virus.

On Wednesday close to 100 million Indonesians will cast their votes for nine provincial governors, 36 mayors and more than 200 district chiefs. Joko's son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is in the box seat to win the mayor's job in Solo, a city of half a million people where his dad launched his political career.

Joko's son-in-law, Bobby Nasution, is also in with a decent chance of winning the mayoralty of Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.

Though talk has already turned to potential leading candidates for the April 2024 presidential election, Joko still enjoys a solid level of support among voters.

But with the death toll rising, the economy decaying, ministers being done for corruption and the distribution of the vaccine not due to start until late January, one can't help but wonder at the limits of voters' patience.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/corruption-in-top-circles-virus-not-enough-to-shake-joko-s-popularity-20201207-p56la0.htm