/ 8 April 2009

Indonesian president’s son in vote-buying row

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s corruption-fighting credentials were on the line on Wednesday after his son was embroiled in vote-buying allegations on the eve of elections.

Vote-buying, or ”money politics” as it is euphemistically known here, is rampant in the world’s third-largest democracy as it heads to the polls for general elections on Thursday.

Yudhoyono, who is hoping to be re-elected to a second five-year term in presidential polls in July, has campaigned as a tough anti-corruption crusader in a country that ranks among the most venal in the world.

But anti-graft activists have questioned the Democratic Party chief’s sincerity after police announced they were probing whistle-blowers who had accused his candidate son, Edhie Baskoro (27), of buying votes.

Authorities initially said they were investigating allegations that Baskoro was handing out 10 000 rupiah (88 cents) notes to potential voters at a campaign rally, allegations vehemently denied by Democratic Party officials.

But at a press conference late on Tuesday police said Baskoro had been cleared of suspicion and named several people, including a rival party official and journalists, as suspects for allegedly defaming the president’s son.

Three media groups — Okezone.com news website, the Jakarta Globe English-language daily and Harian Bangsa newspaper — were accused of spreading lies against Baskoro, along with Gerindra Party legislative candidate Naziri, who filed the initial complaint against him with election authorities.

Police later withdrew the allegations against the media.

”Technically, they are only witnesses,” national police chief Bambang Hendarso told reporters.

Gerindra Party chairperson Suhardi said police should be investigating the vote-buying allegations rather than the whistle-blowers.

”Gerinda rejects any allegation that we are smearing Edhie’s name,” he said.

”Gerindra made a complaint to the police about money politics in Edhie’s campaigning. The police have yet to process the report and instead point a finger at us and say we are discrediting Edhie.”

Okezone printed an apology on its website before the police withdrew their allegations against the media, saying its story was inaccurate and had been withdrawn unconditionally.

”We extend our sincerest apologies to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his son, Edhie Baskoro,” it said. Its original story about Baskoro’s alleged vote-buying ”never existed,” it added.

The Jakarta Globe ran a news report about the police allegations against Naziri and quoted a Gerindra lawyer as saying: ”What is all this about?”

It also ran an editorial praising Yudhoyono’s leadership and quoting the liberal ex-general as saying ”integrity is everything in this election.”

Harian Bangsa editor Abdurrahman Ubaidah defended the freedom of the press.

”It’s journalists’ job to gather and report the news. If there’s a mistake there’s always room for clarification,” he said in response to the police allegations.

Indonesian Corruption Watch activist Adnan Topan Husodo said: ”The substance of this case is vote-buying, not defamation.

”The police haven’t acted independently because this is related to the president’s son,” he said, adding: ”The image of the president could be affected.”

East Java police chief Anton Bachrul Alam said the defamation probe against the Gerindra party candidate was ”based on legal facts” and rejected claims of government intervention, the Antara news agency reported.

Thursday’s vote is only the third general election in Indonesia since the end of the Suharto regime in 1998 and is seen as a measuring stick for the progress of its democratic reforms. — Sapa-AFP