Protesters Rally for Indonesia's Anti-Graft Unit

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Dadang Tri / Reuters

A protester carries a picture of Indonesian businessman Anggodo Widjojo superimposed on a police uniform during a Jakarta rally on Nov. 8

Demonstrators from around Indonesia amassed in central Jakarta on Sunday to show their support for the government's embattled anticorruption commission and two of its members who were recently detained by police. Hundreds turned up in the blistering heat to pressure the government to bring to justice those believed to control law-enforcement agencies in Indonesia — referred to by many now as the "legal mafia" — who are suspected of trying to frame several anticorruption officers, whose commission is referred to as the KPK, on corruption charges. "We have come to show our support for the KPK and the people in their fight against corruption," says Yassin Abdullah, a student whose friends spent six days on a boat to attend the rally in the capital. "Like dust, corruption here covers everything, and even though you can't fully get rid of it you have to start sweeping it away."

The pervasiveness of corruption led President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to set up the KPK in 2004 as part of his commitment to elevate Indonesia from its status as one of the world's most corrupt countries. In his drive to attract billions of dollars in investment capital, SBY, as the President is known, has let the KPK target powerful players in business and politics and even members of his own family to establish a stronger legal foundation and investment climate. Of the nearly 150 cases it has handled, out of more than 30,000 registered complaints, the five-member team has secured a 100% conviction rate in the Corruption Court, making it one of the country's most feared institutions.

But in July, after chief police detective Susno Duadji was caught speaking to a corruption suspect on a KPK phone tap, the police have been trying to discredit the group. On Oct. 29, two KPK commissioners, Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto, were arrested on charges of abuse of authority and taking bribes. Several days later, with public demand growing for an investigation, SBY established a special team of academics, lawyers and a former police official to "verify the facts" surrounding the case.

The release last week of the detained KPK members reflects a small step forward in the country's effort to fight widespread graft in Indonesia, but also the long struggle ahead. The police freed Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto, both currently nonactive members of the KPK, after more wiretapped recordings were aired on national TV that implicated members of the police and prosecutors in an alleged attempt to frame the men. "So far it is the credibility and image of the police and the attorney general's office that have taken the biggest hit," says Danang Widojoko, coordinator of the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch.

Even the President has come under scrutiny for his slow response to the scandal. A week after the President appointed the team to investigate the allegations, he, too, voiced his support for the anticorruption team he formed five years ago. "Our anticorruption commission will continue to be given a role in the fight against corruption because they have proven to be successful and effective in the fight against corruption," he told TIME in an exclusive interview on Nov. 2. "Even though they are currently having some problems, they remain an important part of our fight against corruption." The President admitted that he was fully aware of international criticism of the country's legal and judicial bodies. "Because of that we will continue reforming the police, the attorney general's office and the courts so there will be no more cases of corruption by law enforcers," he added.

That could take a while, but it is what investors need to hear and, as some economists are warning, will also need to see put into practice if the country is to attract badly needed foreign capital. In the meantime, Anggodo Widjojo, a businessman and one of the men caught on tape conspiring with legal authorities to set up the KPK, has yet to be charged. "Why hasn't Anggodo been arrested?" asks Yanuar Rizky, an independent analyst and columnist writing on economic issues. "It looks as if you have to be close to the powers that be in Indonesia if you want to be safe."

With demonstrators taking to the streets in several cities in support of the KPK and demanding transparent handling of the case, the government is facing mounting pressure to resolve a case that grows more complicated with each new revelation. The last major banking scandal, in 1999, dashed the political future of former President B.J. Habibie and culminated with protests in the streets. "By taking so long to get to expose the truth, SBY is putting stability of the country at risk," says Rizky. "Businesses need stability and without it they will rethink any plans they have to invest."

At a time when SBY hopes to attract $200 billion in foreign capital each year to improve the country's crumbling infrastructure, any delays in resolving this latest scandal could prove a serious setback. Anger is mounting toward those believed to be above the law (a giant poster of businessman Anggodo in a police uniform carried at the rally summed feelings up nicely) and is motivating people to take to the streets. "In terms of numbers the protests won't be like 1998 against [former President] Suharto but in terms of pressure it could get just as big," says Eep Saefulloh Fatah, a political analyst from PolMark Indonesia, referring to massive protests that brought down the corrupt Suharto regime. "[SBY's] credibility is at stake and will take a serious hit if he ignores the independent team's recommendations." The team's findings will be announced this week, but time is clearly not on his side.