Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, Oct. 5, 2012

Reporting from Caracas, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez explores scenarios after this Sunday’s presidential vote in Venezuela. The main question: Will Hugo Chávez give up power if he loses?

Christian Caryl tells the story of an elementary school teacher in Sudan who faces execution because she had the courage to stand up to the regime. And Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch presents a gallery of similarly courageous but little-known activists from around the world.

On the scene in Tbilisi, James Kirchick reports on the surprising aftermath of Georgia's parliamentary election -- especially President Mikheil Saakashvili's remarkable acceptance of his own defeat. And Kirchick's dispatch from election day provides a vivid account of the tensions and hopes leading up to the vote.

In an excerpt from his new book, economist Justin Yifu Lin compares the experiences of transition economies and offers a few useful rules of thumb for reformers.

Christopher Stephen, on the scene in Benghazi, describes a local backlash against the militants who killed a popular U.S. ambassador.

In the run-up to Venezuela's epochal election, Juan Nagel reports on the shifting balance of forces, while Francisco Toro takes a closer look at whether Hugo Chávez has improved the life of the country's poor.

Reflecting on Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the United States, Min Zin takes her to task for neglecting to mention the country's continuing civil war.

Endy Bayuni reports on the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission's effort to take on one of the country's most graft-ridden institutions: the police.

Mohamed El Dahshan investigates the absurdities of Egypt's campaign against blasphemy.

And Jackee Batanda recounts the curious tale of a run-in between U.S. diplomats and a Ugandan general.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

Democracy Digest explains why Georgia's election offers a hopeful precedent for the surrounding region. Georgia-watcher Mark Mullen muses about Mikheil Saakashvili's triumphs and mistakes.

A paper from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance provides an in-depth look at Venezuela's presidential election.

In a provocative op-ed, MIT scholar Brian Haggerty argues that those who argue for a "limited" intervention in Syria are likely to be proven wrong by conditions on the ground.

The International Crisis Group offers a handy backgrounder on Malaysia, where a long-anticipated general election may soon shake up the political landscape.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume explains why he expects little from the new anti-corruption party just launched in India.

The Jamestown Foundation's Igor Rotar worries that the explosive situation in Central Asia's restive Ferghana Valley is likely to aggravate instability throughout the region.

A new book from Democracy Lab contributor Francisco Martin-Rayo tells of his travels through the terrorist recruiting grounds of Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.

And finally, Jadaliyya offers a withering review of The Daily Show appearance of Jordan's King Abdullah II, who, they say, is incorrectly portrayed as a reformist "constitutional monarch." You be the judge: You can find Part I of the interview here.

The Daily Show

Democracy Lab

Indonesia's anti-corruption commission fights for its life

Indonesia’s official anti-corruption agency, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), is walking on thin ice after taking on a top police officer, one of its biggest cases to date.

Inspector General Djoko Susilo has been accused of taking massive kickbacks in the procurement of driving simulators when he headed the National Police Traffic Corps division in 2010. After defying two summonses, he showed up at the commission’s headquarters on Friday. But he is clearly not taking the corruption accusation lying down, and appears to enjoy the full backing of the police force.

Created in 2004, the KPK has had remarkable success leading the campaign to clean up the country of big-time corruption, sending dozens of powerful politicians and businessmen to jail. In its work, it has collaborated with the National Police as well as the Attorney General’s Office and relies on detectives seconded by these two institutions.

But when the KPK tackles corruption in the police force, it inevitably upsets that relationship. Now, the commission may be undermining its work -- and its future. (The photo above shows KPK investigators, in green vests, removing documents from Jakarta traffic police headquarters earlier this year as policemen look on.)

The police are leading a KPK-bashing campaign and have found enthusiasts amongst the powerful institutions that have felt the wrath of the anti-graft campaign, such as the House of Representatives, the major political parties, and even the office of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Insisting that they conduct their own investigation against Djoko Susilo, the police are doing all they can to frustrate the KPK’s work. Earlier this month, they withdrew 20 officers seconded to work with the commission. When they offered replacements, none of the candidates passed the KPK integrity test. The KPK has offered the 20 recalled officers to join full-time and build their careers with the commission; there were only five takers.

Politicians quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Major factions in the House of Representatives have proposed a bill to disenable many of the KPK powers. If endorsed, the new law would effectively turn the commission into a toothless tiger. The House is already holding back funds allocated from the government budget for the construction of a new office for the KPK.

The government appears to be playing along. It is certainly making no effort to protect the KPK. Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected twice, in 2004 and 2009, on his anti-corruption platform, he has recently felt the heat of graft-fighting himself, with the KPK going after top figures in his Democratic Party and in his Cabinet.

The party’s former treasurer is already in jail and happily singing about alleged accomplices in corruption, including party Chair Anas Urbaningrum and Minister of Sports and Youth Andi Mallarangeng. The KPK has also arrested Hartati Murdaya, a powerful businesswoman and a major financial contributor of the Democratic Party, on charges of bribery.

Nor can the KPK count on the Attorney General’s Office, which reports to the President. And don’t expect any sympathy from the judiciary either when senior judges have gone to jail thanks to the KPK.

Besides being under-funded and under-staffed, the KPK is becoming increasingly isolated. The institutions with should be working with it are now turning against it. By taking many high profile cases at the same time, the KPK is spreading itself dangerously thin.

But there is support from an unexpected source: The military. Last month, the KPK signed an agreement to use a military-run detention center in central Jakarta that under President Soeharto was notorious as a place used to torture communists, separatist rebels, and anyone critical of the government.

The timing of the agreement raised speculations that the KPK was looking for a safe place to detain Djoko, while KPK officials have insisted that they were simply running out of space and that the deal was not specifically designed for Djoko.

Moreover, the KPK also enjoys massive support from the public, and a group of respected public and religious leaders visited the KPK last week in a show of support. Social media -- Indonesia is now one of the world’s largest users of Facebook and Twitter -- is filled with messages of support and solidarity for the KPK as well as condemnations of the police and politicians.

Last month, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, which has been the bedrock of Islamic moderation, came out with a strong statement calling for the death penalty for corruptors, placing them on par with serial killers, drug traffickers, and terrorists. NU is also threatening to call for a national boycott against paying taxes unless the government cleans up its act.

Although the corruption law is unlikely to change anytime soon to include capital punishment, the NU demand is a reflection of growing public frustration with rampant corruption, in spite of the KPK-led campaign.

With general elections two years away, some of the political parties that are taking part in the campaign to weaken the KPK are wavering in view of the public reaction and the NU’s demand. Some parties have indicated that they are withdrawing their support for the bill that would take away many of the KPK’s powers.

The nation’s mood is still clearly very much behind the KPK’s anti-graft drive. The public wants the campaign to be more aggressive, not less. Politicians who take part in the campaign to weaken the KPK do so at their own peril.