Indonesia: The New Government Settles In

2004

Harold Crouch

Indonesia's new government was inaugurated on 20 October after the landslide victory of retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, in the run-off round of the presidential election a month earlier. The new president can be best described as a cautious reformer. As a senior military officer during the last years of the Soeharto presidency, he led a group of reform-minded officers who prepared the ground for the abolition of the military's Dwifungsi doctrine, which justified its direct involvement in politics. Under both presidents Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri he held the key post of Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, which allowed him to build an impressive public profile, which eventually served him well in the presidential election campaign. In effect, he was seen by the public as a kind of unofficial prime minister who seemed to have a stronger grip on policy issues than did either of the presidents.

The new cabinet contains a mixture of 'professionals' and party politicians. Although neither of the two strongest parties in the parliament is formally represented, several of the ministers have backgrounds in Golkar, including Vice President Jusuf Kalla, and the new Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Aburizal Bakrie, who is one of Indonesia's biggest indigenous businessmen and, although never prominent in the party organisation, had been one of the unsuccessful candidates for the Golkar presidential nomination.

Megawati's foreign minister, Hassan Wirayuda, has been re-appointed and Juwono Sudarsono, a civilian, has been called back from his ambassadorial post in London to return to the Defence Ministry which he had held under President Abdurrahman. Another key appointment is that of Supreme Court judge, Abdul Rahman Saleh, as Attorney General. Abdul Rahman began his career as a human rights lawyer and was in a minority of one when the Supreme Court upheld Golkar leader, Akbar Tanjung's appeal against a corruption conviction. Four retired military officers hold cabinet positions including the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, and the Minister of Home Affairs. None, however, have 'hard-line' reputations.

One of the challenges that the new government will face is its lack of a majority in a parliament in which Golkar and PDI-P hold more than 40 per cent of the seats. This will require careful handling but need not be an insuperable obstacle. Party loyalties continue to be very fluid. Members of parliament in the past were often open to various 'inducements' to support government legislation, a situation that is likely to continue in the future.

WATCHPOINT: Will the new cabinet work as a cohesive team under the president's leadership or will it turn out to be a fractured 'rainbow' cabinet like its predecessors?

 

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