The repelling but mesmerizing direct TV broadcast of the 5 hour playback session in Indonesia’s constitutional court yesterday afternoon of the wiretap tapes made by the anti-graft commission (KPK) is a historic moment for Indonesian democracy. Less than 24 hrs afterward, the two KPK members who had been arrested on trumped up charges were released.

Though it would be grossly premature to say that we are now out of the disease ridden swamp of corruption, the exercise has marked a major change in the way the public learns about the workings of politics in this country. By televising these hearings live, we have moved definitively out of the rumour and gossip grey zones of “indo politics as usual” to a much healthier process of information. Wiretap evidence triumphing over hearsay.

The reaction to this case, in which a pair of businessmen (brothers) accused of graft had contrived to set up and have arrested the two (non-active) members of the KPK using an impressive network of police, prosecutors and members of the judiciary branch, had already been gaining powerful momentum. Not only did a previously issued presidential decree get thrown out of the constitutional court, it created a furor on main street and in cyberspace. A facebook group trying to enlist a million members saw hundreds of thousands of Indonesians sign up within days. All this is ironic proof that President SBY’s days are marked with far greater democracy than Soeharto’s.

In this atmosphere of growing outrage, the televised playback marathon riveted people across the archipelago – the ‘names’ mentioned in these tapped conversations were not only public figures in the capital city. This morning, faced with the prospect of losing whatever shreds of credibility they still have, the Indonesian Police released Bibit and Chandra of the KPK, and arrested Anggodo Widjojo (his brother Anggor is on the lam). They really had little other choice, but tried to save some face by releasing a statement to the effect that: “This does not mean that their case is dropped, but their detention is waived following the mounting public response and in the interest of security and collective order,”.

Though of course the case must continue to be heard, and democracy here will continue to be a work in progress, it is a huge difference from the days when things could easily be swept under the mat. Without bloodshed or burning buildings, the Indonesian public opinion is beginning to make noticeable difference in the due process of the law.