Schapelle Corby: pawn in Indonesian political shadow play

If you only watched 24-hour news channel Metro TV, you might believe Schapelle Corby was one of the biggest stories of the week in Indonesia.

A navy arsenal blew up in Jakarta, a political candidate was murdered in a hail of bullets, the former reserve bank deputy governor was indicted for corruption, but almost every morning the network – one of the most widely watched by news consumers – set aside substantial time for Corby.

In each slot, selections from Mercedes Corby’s ill-advised interview on the Sunday Night program played on a loop to ram home the message that the Indonesian justice minister should ”toughen up” and return Schapelle to Kerobokan prison.

”It’s the only way to shake the impression that Indonesia is under … the armpit of Australia and unable to uphold the sovereignty of our own laws,” editorialised presenter Najwa Shihab on Wednesday.

On the same day, national newspaper Media Indonesia got into the act with a fire-breathing editorial.

If Corby is to be jailed again for causing ”public restlessness” – the clause in the parole law now being invoked against her – it’s Metro TV and Media Indonesia which will have done most to create the upset.

The campaign, though, is not a pure expression of public feeling. Schapelle Corby has become a pawn in Indonesian politics, in a game played by people who care nothing for her individual fate.

Metro TV and Media Indonesia, like most of Indonesia’s media, are both owned by a rich man with political ambitions. Unlike Rupert Murdoch, though, Surya Paloh wants to do more than control politicians – he wants to be a politician.

Mr Surya made big money in catering, but in Indonesia, politics is the best way to secure and extend business interests. Having lost against another businessman and media owner in 2009 to gain the chairmanship of the Golkar Party (former dictator Suharto’s electoral vehicle), Mr Surya set up his own movement, National Democrats, or ”Nasdem”.

Mr Surya would like to be the president, but he lacks the popularity, and his party lacks the machine, to get him there.

Next month, though, in Indonesia’s parliamentary elections, he has a shot at getting a seat at the big table.

The parliamentary election precedes the presidential election by several months, and only if a candidate has the support of 20 per cent of the popular vote in the parliamentary election, or 25 per cent of the seats, is he or she eligible to become a presidential candidate. It acts as a kind of primary for the presidential election in July.

Parties will be forced to form coalitions to nominate a candidate, so even with 10 per cent of the vote, Nasdem’s boss, Mr Surya, could become a kingmaker, with all the opportunities that suggests.

And if a politician who owns a media company wants to raise his profile by whipping up popular resentments, the weakness of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the spectre of spying, arrogant, drug-smuggling Australia are both failsafe ways of doing so.

Unfortunately for Corby, she stands as a symbol of both.

SBY granted her clemency and his justice minister granted her parole. Both decisions are popularly seen as examples of SBY’s predictable habit of kowtowing to Australian lobbying.

Australia is deeply unpopular in Indonesia, and particularly so since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, so Corby (and Mercedes) are readily portrayed as conniving manipulators in this political shadow puppet play.

The Corby family’s missteps – the luxury villa, the initial intention to do a paid interview, Mercedes’ decision to press ahead with the Mike Willesee exclusive, then her comment that the drugs ”could have been from Indonesia” – have caused enough real popular angst to make Corby an easy target for this campaign.

Metro TV has also employed creative cutting of the interview to make Corby look gleeful at putting one over the Indonesians, and mistranslated some of the family’s comments to make them seem even worse. (When brother-in-law Wayan Widyartha explained that Corby was on medication for her poor mental state, it was translated on Metro TV as ”she often consumes sedatives”.)

The decision about Corby’s continued parole lies with Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin. He has publicly complained that the Corby family has not made it easy for him, particularly since he himself is seeking a parliamentary seat in South Sulawesi.

Mr Amir’s hardline deputy, Denny Indrayana, who appeared on Metro TV’s Corby slot on Monday, would lock Corby up tomorrow. But there’s good evidence to suggest Mr Amir, who has met Corby, does not feel the same way.

Mercedes’ apology on Thursday was aimed at these men, as well as at public opinion. It may be enough to soften both –  and Metro TV reported it on Thursday afternoon.

Friday morning’s programs, though, were silent on the subject of Corby. Journalists banned

Two Australian journalists are being deported from Indonesia for covering the Schapelle Corby case while on tourist visas.

Channel Ten’s  Daniel Sutton and freelance photographer Nathan Richter were to be sent back to Australia late on Friday after being picked up near the Corby family compound.

Also on Friday it was revealed that the Justice Office has finally made its recommendation to the minister about Corby’s parole  should be revoked. It is understood to contain two options without expressing an opinion.

Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin is not expected to decide until next week.

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