There is no polling in Riau that will tell the extent of the sentiment expressed by the locals over the 1MDB scandal.
But as soon as Prime Minister Najib Razak’s image appears on local television stations, patrons in coffee shops and restaurants would mumble in silence: “RM2.6 billion and he walks free!” they would say.
Though Indonesia is widely known for its corruption – which is at times embedded in the culture of the country’s politics in particular – Riau has seen its fair share of a witch hunt.
From Members of the Parliament to Assemblymen, police officers and governor’s of Riau, the long arm of the law did not sit back to watch the criminals get away with corruption.
And the locals in townships and villages are aghast at the fact that Najib Razak has remained in power despite being hit by a massive scandal of international scale.
Why the interest in Malaysia?
Oil rich Riau has a population of cross-breeds, that speaks Bahasa Melayu and they have a history linking them to Malaysia through the Malaysian states of Malacca and Johor.
In the past, Johor was part of the greater Johor-Riau kingdom and the affinity does not end there.
Thousands of Riau citizens travels to Malaysia either for health care or on business trips, while some own houses in Johor, Malacca and Negeri Sembilan.
Two years ago, Riau governor Annas Maamun was dragged to the Bandung Corruption Court.
Annas was found guilty of accepting bribes in a forest conversion case that caused the state losses of US$375,460.
The court sentenced Annas to six years in prison and fined him Rp 200 million, or face an additional two months’ imprisonment.
The verdict read as follows: ‘An aggravating factor is that the defendant is a regional leader who should have served as a good example for the community.’
He is not the only governor who was sent to jail for bribery and for corruption.
Former Riau Governor Rusli Zainal, the flamboyant and well-liked political figure, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for bribery and abuse of power in connection with two graft cases involving the 2012 National Games (PON) and the illegal issuance of forestry permits.
“The defendant has been proven validly and convincingly guilty of corruption, consciously committing the crime[s], providing a bad example for the public,” read the verdict.
And history turned a new page in Indragiri Hilir when a metal bridge built by Rusli Zainal in 2002 when he was the Bupati, collapsed, erasing his legacy altogether.
And when Najib Razak is mentioned, scores of people would state their disbelief that a serving Prime Minister can just walk away with RM2.6 billion in his private accounts, while an agency he headed is rigged with scandals and billions of dollars lost.
This, they cannot comprehend.
Malaysia is close to their hearts, so much so, that in the early 2000’s a Bupati of Bengkalis demonstrated in the streets carrying a Malaysian flag and calling for Riau to be annexed to Malaysia.
His grievances against Jakarta was that the Javanese led-government did not care about its citizens in Riau, plowing the oil reserves and giving the only pittance to the province.
That was then, and it was at the end of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s era.
Today, no Bupati would demonstrate or urge the people of Riau to even pray to join Malaysia in a federation, as the winds of change hit both territories that are separated by the Malacca straits.