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Can a campaign promise to crack down on corruption ever be a bad idea?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 27 Feb 2012 17:30 GMT
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By Luke Balleny

The pledge to crack down on corruption is an absolute vote winner in many countries and during many elections. But what happens when the rhetoric doesn't match the results, or when an anti-corruption drive meets resistance?

Filipino President Benigno Aquino was elected in 2010 promising to be the one to put an end to the Philippines’ endemic corruption problem. A year earlier, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of neighbouring Indonesia was re-elected for a second and final term - also on a platform to tackle rampant graft.

Corruption in Indonesia and the Philippines is widespread. According to Transparency International's latest Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines is ranked 129th out of 182 in the index (with 1st the least corrupt) and Indonesia is ranked 100th.

Although many Indonesians voted for Yudhoyono, persuaded by his promise to tackle the corruption that keeps them poor, support for his ruling Democrat Party has dropped so sharply that it could be pushed out in the next election, a recent survey suggested. The main reason seems to be concerns over the slow progress of Yudhoyono's anti-corruption drive.

"If the Democrat Party doesn't do something to restore its anti-corruption image, support will keep on dropping and it's possible that (the opposition party) Golkar could win the 2014 elections," Reuters quoted Dodi Ambardi, a political expert from the Indonesian Survey Institute as saying.

Another factor that is often watched and judged is whether new leaders that come to power promising to tackle corruption have the political will to ensure the old guard are tried for corruption committed by previous administrations. This was the case in the Philippines where soon after taking office, Aquino attempted to put his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on trial for charges of election fraud and corruption.

However, the judiciary doesn’t always play ball. In the Philippines, Aquino felt compelled to impeach the country’s Supreme Court chief Renato Corona for violating the constitution. Corona, who had been installed by Arroyo, was accused by Aquino of protecting her from investigation.

Prosecuting or removing the judiciary because they fail to prosecute a former leader is not without risks.

Last month, the former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed arrested the country’s Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed, accusing him of being in the pocket of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Mohamed's arrest was in direct defiance of a Supreme Court release order.

The reason for the arrest, Nasheed said, was because the judge, like the other 200-odd criminal court judges in the Maldives, was illegally sworn in for a life term and had blocked every attempt to bring multi-million-dollar corruption, rights abuse and criminal cases against Gayoom's allies and relatives.

"Gayoom is running the judiciary," Nasheed told Reuters.

"When he lost the presidency, he was clever enough to carve out a territory and hide there, or get protected there. And none of the cases are moving."

So to make good on his electoral promise to enact a new constitution and establish an independent judiciary, Nasheed said that he was forced to act outside of it.

"I think it would be so wrong of me not to tackle this simply because I might fall or simply because people may raise eyebrows," Nasheed told Reuters.

Nasheed’s prediction was eerily prescient. Following weeks of protest and a police mutiny, Nasheed resigned on Feb. 7 and his vice president, Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik took power.

Nasheed now says that he was a victim of a coup and that he was given no choice but to resign while Manik says that the ascendance was constitutional.

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