Suryadharma remains on Prabowo's campaign team

Evidence gathering: Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigators confiscate documents from the office of Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali in Jakarta on Friday. The KPK has charged the minister with involvement in a graft case surrounding the haj management.

The Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa campaign team has yet to decide whether to dismiss Suryadharma Ali after he was named a suspect in the haj-management graft case on Thursday.

The United Development Party (PPP), of which Suryadharma is the chairman, said Friday that it would seek clarification from Suryadharma about the case against him.

"We have yet to make a decision. We will first hold an internal meeting to hear his explanation about the case," the party's secretary-general, M. Romahurmuziy, said.

The PPP is one of six parties in the coalition supporting the candidacy of Gerindra Party chief patron Prabowo Subianto and National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Hatta Rajasa as presidential and vice presidential candidates in the July 9 presidential election. As PPP leader, Suryadharma, who is the first political leader to pledge support for Prabowo, is an adviser on the pair's campaign team.

Previously on Thursday night, Prabowo said he was convinced that Suryadharma was innocent. "I was shocked by the news. But I personally don't believe that Pak Suryadharma is guilty in the case," he said as quoted by Antara.

Prabowo added that Suryadharma had clarified his status to him as a suspect in the case and that he believed that the PPP chairman had committed no wrongdoing.

"This country is based on the law. Thus, we have to uphold the presumption of innocence."

Gerindra chairman Suhardi said the coalition would provide legal assistance to Suryadharma. "We will give legal assistance to him because as an individual he has the right to legal counsel," he said.

He argued that he was suspicious that politics was behind the Corruption Eradication Commision's (KPK) move to charge Suryadharma.

Separately, Hatta said on Thursday night that the coalition would likely evaluate the position of Suryadharma as an advisor on the campaign team. "The case will automatically lead to a discussion on the possibility of evaluating his position," he said, adding that who would replace Suryadharma in the position would depend on the PPP. "The PPP will announce it [the replacement]."

The KPK charged Suryadharma with regard to irregularities in the 2012-2013 haj pilgrimage programme.

Suryadharma said on Friday that he would not quit his post as he needed to take care of this year's haj programme. He also claimed that he did not understand why he was named a graft suspect.

A political analyst at Jakarta-based Political Communication (Polcomm) Institute, Heri Budianto, said that retaining Suryadharma would do more harm to the Gerindra coalition as it would be perceived as defending a graft suspect.

"Such a public perception would damage the electability of the candidates ahead of the election. So, to prevent it, Suryadharma should voluntarily give up his positions as minister and as PPP chairman," Heri told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

"If later Suryadharma resigned from the two posts through the means of an internal mechanism within the ministry and the party, not voluntarily, then it would have a bad effect on the Prabowo-Hatta bid. The only way to prevent further their electability plunging is for Suryadharma to leave the two posts voluntarily."

Meanwhile, KPK deputy chairman Zulkarnain shrugged off speculation that the naming of Suryadharma was politically motivated, taking place as it did amid the febrile political atmosphere ahead of the July 9 election.

"We work based on the law, not according to politics," Zulkarnain said.